Guest blog by Ketchum Intern Tanya Greenwood
,Tis the season for fly fishing, canoeing and inner tubing in Idaho. As temperatures soar, rivers across the state offer refreshing safe havens for us all to enjoy. The idea that rivers anywhere in the state of Idaho are being shut off seems implausible. But we need not look farther than the Snake River to become alarmed.
The mighty Snake River is quite possibly Idaho’s most renowned waterway, carving its way across southern Idaho and providing 76% of the water supply for Idaho’s citizens. The Snake River is not only essential for our economy, irrigating farms and generating hydropower, it also provides critical habitat for our native fish populations and other flora and fauna.
While many dams kink the Snake River, Milner Dam, located at river mile 639, has been receiving a fair amount of news coverage as of late. That’s because this June the Snake River flows were manually stopped at Milner. And that happens because our State Water Plan states that Milner Dam need only have a minimum daily flow of zero cubic feet per second (cfs). You read that correctly, zero cfs.
This no-flow policy is the result of Idaho’s "two rivers" concept-the Snake River upstream of Milner Dam is diverted primarily for agricultural purposes; downstream of the dam, whatever water remains is primarily dedicated to hydropower. This model does not address water efficiency nor any ecological concerns in the state of Idaho. As such, the Snake River has historically and continues to be managed as two rivers with two distinct purposes. When conditions deem it necessary (aka present drought conditions) the upper portion of the Snake River is prioritized and no water is released downstream of Milner Dam.
Unfortunately for those downstream, the once abundant Snake River flow ceases, diminishing hydropower prospects as well as adversely impacting the livelihoods of farmers and fish. And, let’s not forget about those who just want to get out in the river and cool down!
Ketchum intern Tanya Greenwood is native Idahoan and a rising senior at the College of Idaho.