This is big: Idaho officials have rejected a water permit for a proposed dam at Oneida Narrows in southeastern Idaho. That means the Bear River through Oneida Narrows will continue to flow freely, benefiting generations of anglers and reacreation users who love this spectacular place.
Trout Unlimited led the opposition to the dam proposal. TU’s Warren Colyer, a fisheries biologist, explains that the dam would have obliterated a critical stretch of mainstem habitat for Bonneville cutthroat trout–the only native trout in the Bear River system–which need both mainstem and tributary reaches to complete their life cycle. Thankfully, the Idaho Department of Water Resources agreed, calling TU’s testimony “persuasive.”
This victory showcased Team TU in action. Scott Yates, director of TU’s Western Water Project, testified about the collaborative agreement he helped negotiate 10 years earlier that struck a careful balance between the needs of local irrigators, energy giant PacifiCorp, and fish and wildlife. The proposal would have put that agreement in jeopardy. Colyer, TU’s Watersheds program director, explained how the fish habitat would take a major hit. And Peter Anderson, TU’s Idaho Water Project counsel, coordinated the team and legal strategy.
Anderson told the Idaho Statesman that TU wasn’t doing an end-zone dance over stopping the dam. That’s because TU sincerely wants to address the needs of local irrigators, with whom TU regularly partners on win-win infrastructure and habitat improvements. Anderson pointed out that the Twin Lakes canal system is “incredibly leaky,” and that a fixing the leaks could provide a better, more cost-effective solution than a dam.
“The old way of doing business on water—us vs. them—doesn’t work anymore in resolving some of the difficult water challenges we face in Idaho and the West,” Anderson said. “Instead of fighting, we have to work together to find solutions that work for everyone.”
To date, TU has worked collaboratively with close to a dozen different irrigation companies to improve water delivery efficiencies, restore fish passage, and enhance habitat for Bonneville cutthroat trout in the Bear River basin. Collectively, these projects have reconnected over 150 miles of stream habitat for Bear River populations.