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The morning of February 4, 2015, Boiseans woke up to a river with almost no water in it. After making some calls, KBSX reporter Frankie Barnhill learned the Barber Dam was to blame. An overnight power outage tripped the 100-year-old hydroplant offline, causing the river to back up behind it for hours. Barnhill contacted the company that leases the Barber Dam from Ada County, asking for an explanation of what happened – and what was being done to fix it. Enel Green Power is an international firm with energy holdings in a number of American cities.In enterprising follow-up reports, Barnhill interviewed Ada County officials, Idaho Fish and Game biologists and environmental advocates. The question of how much damage the river's dewatering could have inflicted on the fish and insect population was a big one, as well as how Enel may contribute to a river mitigation project. A public outcry for accountability prompted Ada County to host a special meeting in the spring, which Barnhill covered.The story continued over the summer as a newly created Ada County environmental advisory board began discussions about a river restoration project, to be paid for equally by both the county and Enel. Environmentalists and biologists were feeling assured by Enel's engagement in the oversight board.Then, in September, a second power outage shut down Barber Dam and dewatered the river substantially. Barnhill received a tip about the outage and interviewed an executive with Enel about this second incident, which put the company back in the spotlight. She brought to light gaps in the system, including the lack of a backup generator at the hydroplant.Barnhill continues to follow this story closely, holding Enel and Ada County officials accountable.Scroll down to the bottom of this page for the first story in the series.

Idaho Fish And Game Concerned About Fish Mortality After The Boise River's Dramatic Drop

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After a power plant's alert system failed causing Wednesday's dramatic drop in the Boise River flow, Idaho Fish and Game biologists are concerned about potential impacts to wildlife. The river went from flowing at 290 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 81 cfs in a matter of hours.

Barber Dam's power was restored early Wednesday morning, constricting the flow of water for nearly eight hours.

Idaho Fish and Game biologist Joe Kozfkay says he and his team checked the river from Barber Dam to the Broadway Bridge, and didn't find any evidence of dead adult fish.

But he says the winter is a critical time for young rainbow and brown trout that live in shallow areas, and he says it's hard to imagine some weren't killed when the low flows continued for hours.

“Brown trout spawned last fall in November," says Kozfkay, "and their eggs and hatchlings would still be in or around the gravel and they could have been stranded or left high and dry by rapid decreases of that magnitude."

The biologist says they'll look closer at shallow spots along the impacted stretch of the Boise River in the next few weeks to figure out how many young fish could have died. Depending on what they find out, Idaho Fish and Game could seek money from Enel Green Power, the company that owns Barber Dam.

Kozfkay says in a situation like this, the department would try and work with the company to improve habitat along the Boise River.

The department is also concerned about insect hatching that could have been affected, and how that could trickle down the ecosystem.

Find Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio

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