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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.

After A Dam Malfunction Dried Up The Boise River, Ada County To Hold Public Meeting

Boise River
Frankie Barnhill
/
Boise State Public Radio
This side-by-side image shows how low the Boise River was on the morning of February 4, 2015. The second photo was taken three hours later, after water began refilling the river bed. A power outage from a dam owned by Ada County was to blame.

The public will have the chance to talk with elected officials about a power outage that caused the Boise River to dry up earlier this year. The Ada County Commission is holding a meeting on May 27 to discuss the accidental dewatering.

As KBSX broke the story on February 4, Boiseans woke up to a river that was significantly lower than normal. We learned the cause of the low flow was an overnight power outage at the Barber Dam.  The hydroelectric plant is owned by Ada County and leased to Enel Green Power, an international company. Idaho Fish and Game raised concerns about potential fish mortality as a result of the loss of water, and the Idaho Conservation League flagged the incident as "particularly troubling for fish."

At the time, Jessica Donald with Ada County said Enel installed a secondary alert system that was being closely monitored. The initial alert system had failed when the power outage happened, which caused the river to back up behind Barber Dam for eight hours before workers learned of the outage. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had also asked for an investigation.

According to a press release from Ada County, the public meeting "will include a brief presentation about the Barber Dam, along with details regarding the power outage and its cause, as well as steps being taken to address the incident and its impact. Representatives from Fulcrum, LLC, a subsidiary of Enel Green Power North America, Inc. (EGPNA), and Idaho Fish and Game will be on hand to participate."

The May 27 meeting will take place at the Ada County Courthouse in downtown Boise from 6-8 p.m.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio

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