Clark Fork Delta Restoration Project Planned for Next Year
The dramatic erosion of the islands and shorelines in the Clark Fork delta has prompted the formation of an interagency effort to protect what remains of this important wetland.
A kayaker paddles through remnant stumps of a forest that used to grow in the Clark Fork delta. Susan Drumheller photo.
Fifty-seven years and more than 600 acres ago, there was no Albeni Falls Dam. At that time, Lake Pend Oreille was a little smaller and the Clark Fork Delta was a lot bigger.
The delta was a rich, wooded wetland threaded with river channels that entered Lake Pend Oreille a fair distance downstream of where they do today. The construction of the dam flooded hundreds of acres of delta and a lot of other low-lying hayfields and wildlife habitat around the Pend Oreille Basin.
Vegetation died and, with the annual rise and fall of the lake, banks became saturated and undermined by currents and wave action, and melted away year after year. Anywhere from 10 to 15 acres disappear in the Clark Fork Delta annually, according to Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG).
That's why we support an ambitious effort to protect and restore what's left of the delta, which ranks in the top 10 of Idaho's most important wetlands for wildlife habitat.
In October, we participated in a project kick-off meeting with multiple stakeholders, including state and federal agencies, the Kalispel Tribe, Avista Corp. and Ducks Unlimited. Chris Bonsignor of Ducks Unlimited said the delta is not supporting nearly as many migrating birds as it used to, and that it will continue to degrade if efforts aren't made to protect and restore it.
The initial plan is to begin construction of a vegetated breakwater to protect the remaining westernmost islands from lake wave action in the winter of 2013-2014. Also among the objectives are to protect shorelines from erosion, raise delta islands that are currently submerged, increase wetland habitat diversity and capture woody debris to trap sediment in the delta area.
We're confident that the experienced Ducks Unlimited and IDFG crew, with its expanded design team, can come up with a viable plan to protect the delta. But we're concerned that there's not enough funds to do the job right.
The $1 million a year that the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has promised the state of Idaho for erosion control and restoration won't be enough for this job. Sure, Avista bears some financial responsibility because of its upstream dams, but studies have shown that most of the impact comes from the Albeni Falls Dam, which is part of BPA's hydropower system.
It's our hope the funding can be found to get this project off the mudflats. And once it does, we'll be eager to turn out volunteers to help plant willows, dogwood and other native plants to restore this tremendous wetland habitat.