For the past three years, HFF has ended the year by taking a look back at our “Top-10” accomplishments. This year, we’re keeping that tradition going with HFF’s Top-10 list for 2017. Before you dive in, you can also take a look back at HFF’s Top 10 for 2014, 2015, and 2016.

HFF’s Top 10 — 2017

10. Total Solar Eclipse

9. State-wide summit comes to Ashton

8. Science program reprsented at three professional meetings and other local, regional, and national venues

7. Mike Beus and Dale Swensen retire after a combined 70 years in water management

6. Creel and Economic Value Survey conducted on the Henry’s Fork and Fall River

5. Harriman Canal Restoration Project – Phase 1 Complete

4. Record year for Youth on the Fly

3. Sonde automation moved from concept to successful testing

2. Your new Community Campus

1. Celebrating a good water year


HFF’s Top-10 List 2017


10. Total Solar Eclipse – No 2017 highlight list in eastern Idaho would be complete without mention of the total solar eclipse, which occurred on Monday, August 21 and was the first total eclipse visible in the continental United States since 1979. The southern half of the Henry’s Fork watershed fell within the 70-mile wide band of totality, with Rexburg and Driggs very near the center of the band. Ashton was right at the northern edge of the band and so was visited by thousands of people who traveled south from Montana to view the eclipse. HFF staff volunteered at local eclipse-related events and held a backyard brunch party on what turned out to be a stunningly clear day and an impromptu local holiday. In the hour surrounding totality, birds went to roost, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees, and evening hatches briefly appeared on the river.

9. State-wide summit comes to Ashton- In November, the Henry’s Fork Watershed Council hosted a satellite location of a state-wide summit titled “Safeguarding Idaho’s Economy in a Changing Climate”. Invited speakers represented a broad sample of private businesses, public agencies, tribes, and NGOs in Idaho from Simplot and Hewlitt-Packard to the US Environmental Protection Agency and Idaho Department of Lands to Trout Unlimited. Speakers gathered in Boise, and their presentations were live-streamed to three organized satellite locations in Pocatello (Idaho State University), Moscow (University of Idaho), and Ashton (Henry’s Fork Foundation).

Learn more here or watch a video recording of the summit here.


8. Science program represented at three professional meetings and other local, regional and national venues—HFF’s team of physical, biological and social scientists made a big impression in the scientific community via professional presentations at venues ranging from a local lecture series to the international Wild Trout symposium. HFF staff members Bryce Oldemeyer, Melissa Muradian, Jamie Laatsch, Brandon Hoffner and Rob Van Kirk gave a total of 11 presentations at professional conferences during 2017. Former HFF research assistants and graduate students Christina Morrisett, Zach Kuzniar, and Jack McLaren contributed to these presentations, and many were co-authored with staff from HFF’s agency and NGO partners. Science team members gave another dozen presentations to local school and college classes, The Nature Conservancy’s summer seminar series at the Flat Ranch, adult education classes, and a national webinar hosted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.


7. Mike Beus and Dale Swensen retire after a combined 70 years in water management–Two stalwarts of Idaho water management—and long-time partners of HFF—retired in 2017 after a combined 70 years in the business. Their retirements definitely mark the end of an era in Idaho water management.

Mike Beus, Upper Snake River Water Operations Manager with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, retired in January after a 30-year career with Reclamation. Mike earned his engineering degree from the University of Idaho and worked for the Twin Falls Canal Company from 1981 to 1986 before starting his long tenure with Reclamation. Mike was known for his quiet and respectful demeanor, for carefully considering the needs of all stakeholders in his decision-making, for the depth and breadth of his knowledge, and for his unique sense of humor. Mike was a key participant in the Henry’s Fork Watershed Council and the Henry’s Fork Drought Management Planning Committee. HFF’s Senior Scientist Rob Van Kirk considers Mike one of his mentors in the field of water management. At Henry’s Fork Day 2017, HFF recognized Mike with the Conservation Award for his contributions to objective and science-based management of water resources in the upper Snake River basin. During his retirement, Mike plans to spend more time skiing on snow rather than predicting its melt.

At the end of December, Dale Swensen retired after 40 years as Executive Director of the Fremont-Madison Irrigation District (FMID). Dale has life-long ties to agriculture; his father was a farmer, and Dale earned a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Brigham Young University in 1978. Dale’s career spanned four decades of major change in the way water is managed and administered in the upper Snake River basin. Teton Dam failed less than two years before Dale started with FMID, and Water District 01 changed from pencil-and-paper water-rights accounting to a computerized system during Dale’s first year. Dale’s career also included the Swan Falls settlement in 1984, the Snake River Basin Adjudication from 1987 to 2014, and conjunctive management of ground and surface water starting in 1994. Dale was also a founder and co-facilitator (along with HFF) of the Henry’s Fork Watershed Council and has chaired the Henry’s Fork Drought Management Planning Committee since its inception in 2005. Like Mike, Dale was known for his calm demeanor and balanced approach to problem-solving. HFF’s Executive Director Brandon Hoffner summarized Dale’s career by saying “Dale Swensen has provided leadership in the Henry’s Fork Watershed for four decades by continually striving for the best solutions to state and local water issues.” In his retirement, Dale will serve his church and spend more time with grandkids.


6. Creel and Economic Value Survey conducted on the Henry’s Fork and Fall River – In 2017, the Henry’s Fork Foundation (HFF) continued our effort, with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) and Dr. Cliff Nowell of Weber State University, to conduct creel and economic value surveys in the Upper Snake region. Ben Ortman, Conservation Technician with HFF, led the effort to gather data for both the creel and economic value surveys. Data for the creel survey was sent to IDFG, and data related to the economic value survey was sent to Dr. Nowell.

In 2017, 1,002 creel surveys were conducted, 1,013 economic value surveys were distributed, and 10 people contributed to the implementation of these studies for an estimated total 1,160 hours in the field. Additional analysis and results will be shared in a report in 2018.


5. Harriman Canal Restoration Project – Phase 1 Complete – The first phase of the Harriman Canal restoration project is now complete. Concerns about a leaky canal and degraded/eroded/braided angler access trail south of the Logjam initiated the project. In June, a coordinated effort by Harriman State Park (HSP) and HFF, heavily assisted by Forsgren and Associates of Rexburg, led to 400 yards of material trucked in to rebuild the west side of the canal, plug holes, and properly convey water to either irrigated pastures or back into the Henry’s Fork. The canal repair has dried out the existing trails and alleviated much of the trail erosion problem. Monitoring and management of fish in the canal will be undertaken by HSP and HFF to ensure that Harriman Canal does not have a negative impact on the trout population.


4. Record participation in Youth on the Fly — In August, we celebrated Youth on the Fly 2017 with a record 26 students! A special thank you to the guides from Trout Hunter, Henry’s Fork Anglers, Three Rivers Ranch, Teton Valley Lodge, and Big Sky Anglers for donating their time and talents, to the Voigt Foundation, Jack and Janet Roberts, and Bill Hurst for making sure each student was able to take home the fly rod they had used all day to learn how to fish, to Patagonia, Kast, and Rio for donating clothing and gear for the day, and to the Idaho Master Naturalists who donated their time to run shuttles for our fleet of vehicles!


3. Sonde automation moved from concept to successful testing in the lab and in the river–Thanks to the hard work and technical skills of HFF Research Associate Melissa Muradian—along with Stanford University interns Justin Appleby and Zac Espinosa—HFF took a huge step in 2017 toward full automation of its extensive network of water-quality monitoring sondes. Until this year, data recorded by the sondes every 15 minutes remained stored in the sondes and unavailable to HFF staff and river stakeholders until manually downloaded every few weeks.

What started out as just a concept in 2015 is now reality, as HFF has successfully outfitted one of its sondes with hardware and software to transmit water-quality data in real time to a server housed in HFF’s new laboratory. Data are transmitted via cell service and are automatically stored on the server and uploaded to a new data web site. The full transmission process has been successfully tested in the field and lab, and we plan full implementation of the technology at four sonde locations, as well as public availability of the web site, in 2018.


2. Your new Community Campus– HFF officially moved its offices into the new Community Campus in August, but this community project has been more than three years in the making. The new campus will increase our ability to fulfill HFF’s mission by educating future generations of anglers and farmers about the watershed, increase participation in regional and state-wide water management issue to benefit the Henry’s Fork, improve and increase water quality monitoring capabilities, and expand outreach and communication to inspire conservation on the Henry’s Fork. 

View some of the great progress that has been made in the before and after photo tour.


1. Celebrating a good water year – Water year 2017 was above average in both precipitation and streamflow. Averaged over the whole watershed, precipitation was 138% of average, led by the Fall River watershed, at 144% of average. Due to the cumulative effect of four years of drought, especially in the groundwater-dominated subwatersheds, natural streamflow in the watershed was only 109% of average, with streamflow in the upper Henry’s Fork, which is dominated by groundwater, at only 91% of average.

Thanks to HFF’s partners on the Island Park Drought Management Planning Committee and local farmers, innovations in water-supply prediction, storage delivery, and water marketing made a good water year even better. Island Park Reservoir was already very near its average April-1 volume by early October, which allowed outflow from Island Park Reservoir to average 510 cfs so far this winter, the highest winter flow since 2011-2012 and only the second time since 2000 that winter flow has exceeded 500 cfs. Long-range forecasts call for average to above-average precipitation for the remainder of the winter, so the overall water-supply outlook remains good as we head into the New Year.