The Boise River’s 2017 flood appears to have ended.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Wednesday that it would reduce flows below flood level Thursday. Absent some extraordinary and unforeseeable weather event, it’ll probably keep dropping over the next couple months.
There’s no precise start date for when that work can start. As of Wednesday, huge sections of the Greenbelt were still under water. The paths have to be above water, and the ground under them dry, before crews can start assessing the extent of damage, local experts say.
High water kept that ground saturated this spring for much longer than normal and, in some cases, washed away earth on which the paths were built. All of that weakened the paths, making them too dangerous to ride bicycles or walk on, city of Eagle spokeswoman Tammy Gordon said Wednesday.
Plantation Island bridge, a bicycle and pedestrian connection between the Boise and Garden City pathways that was removed in early April as floodwaters eroded its base, is a missing connection that likely can’t be replaced until at least this winter.
Gordon said the Greenbelt restoration process likely won’t begin until weeks after water recedes from the pathways’ surfaces. She said the city expects to find flooding has completely destroyed its unpaved Greenbelt paths, and they’ll have to be rebuilt.
Gordon warned that traveling on closed sections of the Greenbelt is considered trespassing. People who do so would have to pay the bill for their own rescue if they need help, she said.
TO FLOAT OR NOT TO FLOAT...
Also uncertain is the date at which people can start floating the Boise River. Ada County commissioners make the call every year on when to open raft and tube rentals at Barber Park, the most common put-in location for the summer float.
They base their decision on input from Parks and Waterways director Scott Koberg and the Boise Fire Department, which removes debris from the river that can snag boats and people, leading to injuries and, occasionally, death.
It’ll be a while before the fire department can even start that process, spokeswoman Char Jackson said. Flows in the river would have to be no higher than 2,000 cubic feet per second for the department to start collecting debris.
Normal flows for floating season are around 1,500 cubic feet per second. As of Wednesday afternoon, they were still above flood level, which is 7,000 cfs. So there’s a long way to go.
Even after it starts, the process of removing debris likely will take longer than most years, because the flooding has knocked so many trees and other obstacles into the river.
“I’m pretty sure, between now and the end of the summer, I can safely say the river will — hopefully — get down to 1,500, 1,800 cfs,” Ada County spokeswoman Kate McGwire said. “That isn’t so much the issue. It’s what’s in the river.”
Gordon said Eagle’s initial estimates for the cost of restoring the Greenbelt are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The tab likely will be a lot higher in Boise. Parks and Recreation director Doug Holloway said there’s simply no way of knowing how much it will cost to get the Greenbelt ready for use. It could be anywhere between a few hundred thousand dollars and millions, he said.
“It could be on the low end, and that would be the best gift we could get out of the flooding,” Holloway said.
Holloway said Boise is already lining up multiple restoration contractors, hoping to start and finish the work as soon as possible.
The county and cities along the river might be able to get federal money to help pay for the restoration work, but no one’s holding their breath. Applications so far have been denied.
The county’s finances could suffer in another way. The later float season opens, the shorter it’s likely to be, depressing income from raft and tube rentals, which the county splits with a private contractor. The county also collects parking fees at Barber Park.
Float season accounts for about $500,000 of the Parks and Waterways budget, McGwire said.