Idaho’s Treasure Valley, a desert and one of the fastest-growing regions in the country, has enough water to meet the needs of its growing population only if we think creatively about the water we already use. A current proposal from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) would have you think otherwise.

With financial and political support from the state of Idaho, the BOR proposes to raise Anderson Ranch Dam by 6 feet. The dam is already 456 feet tall, and the inundation and recreational impacts from raising it 6 feet can likely be mitigated in meaningful ways. But why raise a dam on the South Fork Boise River when conservation practices could more reliably provide even more water?

Idaho consistently ranks in the top several states for overall water use. Not per capita; literally overall water use. That means there’s plenty of room for improvement to conserve water that’s used for landscaping, and rethinking how much water entities are sending to homes and businesses.

A better option

Instead of raising an aging dam, a more reliable and cheaper option is to incentivize people to use less water on their landscaping. That can happen via education, cooperative grants with local nurseries and landscaping businesses, and tiered water use pricing, just to name a few ideas.

Although likely more difficult politically, another way to conserve water is to update how much water Treasure Valley irrigation districts and other water delivery entities send to former agricultural areas that are now residential neighborhoods and commercial properties. Roofs, streets and parking lots don’t need water, yet it’s still delivered to these areas as if they’re growing crops.

Dam raise threatens fish and healthy river flows

Propping up longstanding and outdated practices is not going to get us where we need to go in the 21st century. Not only is a dam raise expensive and unreliable, unless more protections are put in place, it threatens the South Fork Boise’s blue-ribbon trout fishery and other fisheries all the way downstream to the Snake River.

Wintertime flows in the Boise River are also threatened. Yes, literally, the river could conceivably dry up in the winter if this project is built but not conditioned properly. And that’s because healthy river flows for fish and recreation are the proverbial bottom of the barrel in Idaho’s water management scheme, meaning other uses of water take priority.

Raise your voice!

The good news? You can be a voice for water conservation and a healthy Boise River even though the dam raise is being seriously considered. Let BOR officials know you want to see water conservation instead of a dam raise. And that you value the fish, boating, recreation opportunities, and beauty that make the Boise River the special resource that it is.

The BOR is accepting comments on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement through Monday, Sept. 14. Take a minute right now to send the BOR an email by clicking “Submit a Comment.”