At the end of each year, HFF takes a moment to reflect on all that was accomplished for the Henry’s Fork in the previous 12 months. To keep the tradition going, HFF is taking a look back at the “Top-10” programmatic accomplishments and events worth celebrating from 2018.
In 2016, HFF, in partnership with Friends of the Teton River, Idaho Fish and Game, and Weber State University, began a three-year project to assess the economic value of angling in the watershed. Because of its local importance, non-angling recreational use was added to the study on the upper Teton River. Field work included direct counts of anglers and other river users, individual contacts at river and lake access sites, and distribution of a survey that asked recreationists about the frequency of their outings, expenses related to fishing and river recreation, their experience on the river, and a number of demographic characteristics. Field work was done on Henry’s Lake in 2016, Henry’s Fork and its tributaries in 2017, and upper Teton River in 2018. With all data in hand, we are now in the analysis phase. Preliminary results from the Henry’s Fork show that on average, residents of the upper Snake River region—eastern Idaho and adjacent areas of western Wyoming—spent $133.33 on each outing, and people from outside the region spent $456.78. The average over all survey respondents was $355.85 per day. Use levels are in the range of 12,000 angler-days per year on Henry’s Lake, 20,000-40,000 user-days per year on the Teton River to over 60,000 angler-days on the Henry’s Fork. Final results from the study will be presented at HFF’s 2019 annual meeting in June and at a professional economics conference in July. A final report will be completed next summer as well.
After the most dismal opening day of fishing on Henry’s Lake in decades, long-time Henry’s Lake anglers and mainstream news stories mourned the demise of a once-great fishery. One of the prime suspects in this demise was poor water quality, most likely low dissolved oxygen levels under ice cover in the winter. Lacking water quality expertise and facilities at the regional level, IDFG turned to HFF, which has developed a very strong water quality program over the past four years. With funding from the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, Henry’s Lake Foundation, and private donors, HFF and IDFG got instruments in the water in early August, measuring dissolved oxygen, temperature, algae growth, nutrient concentrations, and other parameters weekly. A continuous recording sonde, like the ones we use in the river, is currently recording data under the ice. By next fall, we should have a clear picture of water quality in Henry’s Lake and how it is affecting fish survival and growth.
On June 14th, HFF hosted a Grand Opening for the new HFF Community Campus. Over 200 people joined us for an afternoon of celebration by touring the new office spaces, taking a virtual float down the river in a virtual reality drift boat experience, enjoying a picnic, and learning about the history of the Henry’s Fork in the Henry’s Fork Country Interpretive Center. The new Community Campus has increased HFF’s capacity to educate future generations of anglers and farmers about the watershed, participate in regional and state-wide water management issues 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. The restoration of the old Ashton Hospital building into the HFF Community Campus was made possible by generous project-specific donations from private individuals and foundations such as the CHC Foundation and M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.
As part of the precision management strategy, Island Park Reservoir was held right at full pool throughout the spring so that not one extra acre-foot would be delivered from the reservoir before it was actually needed for irrigation. As a result, the river’s natural snowmelt and rainfall runoff events were passed through a full reservoir all spring, providing the river with a much-needed spring cleaning. HFF’s research has shown that fine sediment is delivered from Island Park Reservoir into the river downstream during irrigation season, when flows are high and the reservoir is being drawn down. Almost all of this sediment is trapped by aquatic plants in the channel between the dam and Pinehaven, the vast majority of it in Harriman State Park. This sediment can move out of this reach of river only when the plants have died off, roughly January through May, and only when streamflow is high enough to mobilize the sediment. The ratio of this springtime flow to the previous year’s irrigation-season flow is a good measure of how much sediment can be moved out of—or remain trapped in—the Harriman reach. The combination of low irrigation demand in 2017, high winter flow in 2017-18 (see number 2), precision management in the spring of 2018, and some big rains resulted in the highest value of this ratio since 1997 and the second highest since 1978. This favorable combination flushed 2,000 tons of sediment out of the river between the dam and Pinehaven. Although the sediment mobilization reduced early-season hatches in 2018, aquatic insects and trout will benefit from the clean gravel that was left after the flush.
Management of the South Fork Snake River system, especially in regards to water management, can directly affect streamflow in the Henry’s Fork. So, when a group of South Fork outfitters and concerned citizens approached HFF and asked us to expand our brand of research and collaboration to the South Fork, we took note. After serious consideration, HFF has launched the South Fork Initiative (SFI) project. Not only will this new endeavor provide the opportunity to influence broad-scale water management for the benefit of the Henry’s Fork and the South Fork, maintaining a healthy South Fork fishery will help disperse fishing pressure and ensure great fishing opportunities for both rivers. Funding for SFI related projects comes directly from grants and donations designated for the SFI. Donations and funds for the Henry’s Fork are not, and will not, be used for SFI projects. Learn more about the South Fork Initiative here.
HFF’s intern program, which dates back to 1989, has provided a great summer experience for hundreds of interns over the years. However, logistics and staffing have always limited the potential of the program. With the opening of HFF’s Campus and addition of new staff, the interns received an experience that was described by graduate student Jack McLaren as “rivaling any university summer undergraduate educational or research program.” The intern class of 2018 was the first to live in the campus dorm suite, work in the new water quality lab, receive one-on-one supervision and mentoring from an individual HFF staff member, and participate in the first annual summer seminar series, held in the campus conference facility. Each of the interns was responsible for completing an independent project that contributed directly to one of HFF’s core programs, ranging from aquatic ecology to irrigation demand reduction to communication through visual media. Near the end of their internship, each intern presented results of this project at the seminar series, complementing presentations earlier in the summer from HFF staff and graduate students. The seminar series and intern program will continue to grow in 2019 and beyond.
HFF received just over $250,000 in grants in 2018 from organizations and foundations like the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Commission, Henry’s Lake Foundation, Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Cross Charitable Foundation, CHC Foundation, Patagonia and many others. These funds directly supported HFF’s programmatic work in water quality monitoring, streamflow and groundwater measurement, hydrologic modeling, and economic value studies, to name a few. Grant funding from agencies and foundations not only supplements the donations we receive from private individuals and allows those donations to go further, but increases HFF’s capacity to conduct crucial conservation work in our watershed as federal dollars for conservation become harder to come by.
In April, HFF and Friends of the Teton River (FTR) jointly hired Bryce (BC) Contor as the Landowner Outreach Manager to coordinate the new Upper Snake Farms & Fish Program, in past colloquially (and slightly inaccurately) referred to as a “water marketing” program or “buying water”. The Farms & Fish Program, with partners including FTR, The Nature Conservancy, and Trout Unlimited, aims to work with willing agricultural producers and landowners in our area to reduce irrigation demand and keep water in Island Park Reservoir for the benefit of fisheries and water quality. The program will employ a variety of tools, including creative irrigator-to-irrigator water leases and/or forebearance agreements, on-the-farm changes in crop production, soil-health enhancement, and alternative markets as components of an overall suite of strategies to benefit instream flows and keep water in Island Park Reservoir.
Due to well above-average water supply in 2017 and to precision water management in 2018 (see number 1), winter outflow from Island Park Dam is set to exceed 500 cfs for the second consecutive winter. In the winter of 2017-18, outflow averaged 504 cfs from December 1 through February 28, the period most critical for juvenile trout survival. That turned out to be more water than would have been in the river under natural conditions; average natural flow was 474 cfs. So far in the winter of 2018-19, outflow from the dam has averaged 516 cfs, just a hair lower than the river’s natural flow of 526 cfs. Winter flow in both years will beat the long-term average of 351 cfs by almost 45%.
At the May meeting of the Henry’s Fork Watershed Council, HFF presented the results of its water supply model: average conditions were expected for the summer, and the amount of water left in Island Park Reservoir at the end of the summer would depend strongly on how much water was left in the river at St. Anthony. Subsequent discussions set an irrigation-season target flow of 1,000 cfs at the St. Anthony gage to balance needs of the lower river with those of the Island Park to Riverside reach. Based on information in HFF’s daily water report, Fremont-Madison Irrigation District and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operated the irrigation system to within 10% of the target over a 90-day period from July 3 to September 30, achieving an average flow of 1,085 cfs at St. Anthony. Daily flow dropped below 1,000 cfs on only 10 days, and the average flow over those 10 days was 980 cfs. Statistical analysis showed that this level of precision saved 14,000 acre-feet of water in Island Park Reservoir, compared to what it would have been at the long-term average flow of 1,411 cfs at St. Anthony. This savings increased winter outflow from Island Park by 80 cfs. In addition, strategic use of water from Grassy Lake reduced outflow from Island Park Reservoir by 50 cfs between July 6 and August 6, keeping peak outflow below 1,100 cfs all summer. Finally, streamflow at St. Anthony was very constant all summer, maximizing the benefit to the lower-river fishery per acre-foot of water delivered from Island Park Reservoir.