Flood cycle: Biking a wet Boise River Greenbelt
Chipp Leibach looked out at what appeared to be a stream cutting across the graveled Bethine Church River Trail and shook his head.
“I hadn’t seen that before,” said Leibach, who has lived in the River Run neighborhood in East Boise for 11 years.
The water was about a foot deep just past the start of the western portion of the 1.6-mile trail, named for the advocate for preservation of public lands and wife of former U.S. Sen. Frank Church.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers began releasing additional water from Lucky Peak Dam on Thursday morning, part of ongoing efforts at flood control after the unusually snowy winter. Flows through the city of Boise will increase from 7,750 cubic feet per second to 8,000 cfs by Friday.
“We’re hoping to keep it at the 8,000 cfs level through the end of March and the beginning of April,” said Annette Ross, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation. “We need to make room for the coming runoff.”
Water from the river was overflowing its banks in several spots Thursday afternoon between Marianne Williams Park in East Boise and the Glenwood Bridge at Garden City.
The Boise Parks and Recreation Department has closed the Boise Greenbelt at five other locations:
▪ Near Marianne Williams Park between East Parkcenter Boulevard and South Eckert Road.
▪ Another section near Marianne Williams Park at the bridge over Walling Creek, south of East Warm Springs Avenue.
▪ Underneath the West Parkcenter Boulevard Bridge, east of the Boise State University campus.
▪ Along the boardwalk under the south Capitol Boulevard Bridge, at the west edge of the BSU campus.
▪ From the Main Street Tunnel on the north side of the Greenbelt to the railroad Trestle Bridge. This closure was new as of Thursday.
In neighboring Garden City, the bicycle and pedestrian bridge located east of the Les Bois racetrack at the Ada County Fairgrounds is closed. The bridge leads to the Plantation neighborhood and the Boise section of the Greenbelt on the north side of the river.
Standing water is on the pathway between 45th and 47th streets on the south side of the river. Officials are monitoring the situation and some sandbags have been put out, but no damage is expected to homes in that neighborhood, Mayor John Evans said.
“We’re checking problem areas every hour, 24 hours a day,” Evans said.
He urged people to use caution in those sections of the Greenbelt with standing water.
Although Lucky Peak Dam is only at 45 percent of capacity, the additional release of water from the reservoir is needed to help reduce the risk of increased flooding later this spring, Ross said.
Bonnie Shelton, a spokeswoman for the Boise Parks and Recreation Department, said city crews monitoring the river observed flows on Thursday morning already reaching 8,000 cfs.
A pump normally keeps water out of the Main Street tunnel on the north side of the river. However, it’s not set up to handle such high flow volumes and it was shut off Thursday morning. By mid-afternoon, the tunnel had about 2 inches of standing water and is expected to get deeper over the next couple of days, Shelton said.
So, far the Main Street tunnel on the south side of the river remains mostly dry and passable, she said.
No additional problems have been seen, she said. While there is some standing water in some other places, most of the Greenbelt remains open.
“We know how much people rely on the Greenbelt, so we want it to still be accessible in those areas,” she said.
One of those people is Boise resident Elaina Donohoe, who doesn’t drive. She rides her bicycle on the Greenbelt, using it as her main route. On Thursday, she was walking near the Bethine Church trail with Jane, a Labrador-mix dog.
“I’m a little surprised to see the water on the Greenbelt,” she said.
For longtime resident Bill Lloyd, the high river flow is nothing new. Lloyd, the retired regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said dam operators work carefully to prevent worse flooding later on as snow melts and spring rains fall.
“We hope it doesn’t go higher but the reports are there that there’s enough worry about the snowpack we had this year so that the river’s going to have even more water in it than the current flow. So that will be tough on some,” said Lloyd, who was walking on the Greenbelt on Thursday afternoon.
Dave Hopkins, a member of the Boise Baby Boomers club that focuses on outdoor activities, was walking on the Greenbelt near the Main Street tunnel. He said it’s been a wet spring so far.
“We usually hike in the Foothills, but it’s been so muddy up there, we’ve been coming down here,” he said.
Leibach wishes the extra water could be put to good use.
“It’s too bad all this water can’t go into the aquifer,” he said.