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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.

Ada County And Hydropower Company Promise Boise River Restoration Project

Frankie Barnhill
The Boise River is going to the first focus of a new environmental oversight group in Ada County.

After it became clear that a power outage and failed alarm system at the Barber Dam caused the Boise River to flow nearly dry for eight hours on February 4, Marie Callaway Kellner of the Idaho Conservation League began asking for action.

Ada County owns the dam and leases it to Enel Green Power, an international hydropower company. Along with members of other environmental groups, Callaway Kellner wants to see the county and Enel take responsibility for the accident by paying for a project to help the river’s ecology. Now, Callaway Kellner is one step closer to seeing that happen.

"To me it feels like a very big shift in only just a couple of weeks," says Callaway Kellner. "We now have Enel and the county jointly saying 'yes, we want to fund a project that is the benefit of the river and the fishery."

Ada County has put together an oversight group made up of environmental advocates like Callaway Kellner, as well as biologists from Idaho Fish and Game. Ada County and Enel have agreed to split the cost of a river restoration project the oversight group will choose this summer. Callaway Kellner says she's happy to see action on the issue, and hopes to see a project get underway this winter.

Find Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio


Frankie Barnhill was the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast.