Environment

Barber Dam operators make changes after accident briefly drained Boise River

About 100 people showed up Wednesday night to hear what caused an East Boise dam to malfunction in February, and what steps are being taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Part of the Boise River was reduced to nearly a trickle for about eight hours overnight on Feb. 4 when a power grid fluctuation caused the Barber Dam to shut down. Ada County owns the dam, but leases the hydroelectric plant to ENEL Green Power.

ENEL officials said a two-part alarm system failed to alert operators of the problem, causing water to back up behind the dam. When operators arrived in the morning, they discovered the problem and corrected it.

Larry James is the regional operations manager for ENEL and says his company has installed new alarm systems. “But there is also a human factor involved now,” he said, “where 24 hours a day every day of the year somebody is standing by a phone ready to answer it when that plant calls and says, ‘I am not running.’ And that is activated by a multitude of alarms.”

You can read more about Wednesday’s meeting at Boise State Public Radio’s website.

IMPACT ON FISH

Idaho Fish and Game determined that the outage will likely have an effect on fish populations, but not a catastrophic one.

“After it happened we went out immediately,” Joe Kozfkay, regional fisheries manager, said Thursday. “We were looking for dead (fish) bodies and we didn’t see that. We didn’t find hardly any dead fish.”

However, trout and mountain whitefish eggs that were exposed on the river bed were likely impacted. The extent of the damage won’t be known until 2016, after fish numbers are tallied, Kozfkay said.

Even then, the populations should remain healthy, he said.

“You lose one year class. It’s an impact, but a relatively small component,” he said. “It’s hard to say that anglers are going to notice the difference, but it is concerning when a river gets essentially shut down.”

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