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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.

$45K Boise River Restoration Project Set For Fall After 2015 Dam Malfunction

Frankie Barnhill
Boise State Public Radio
The Boise River on February 4, 2015. The photo on the right was taken three hours after the one on the left, after water began refilling the river bed. A power outage from a dam leased by Ada County was to blame.

The Barber Dam in east Boise lost power one night in February of 2015. Once offline, the flow of water through the hydroelectic plant stopped – causing the river torun dryfor about eight hours. It turned out that Enel Green Power – an international company -- was leasing the facility from Ada County, and the company's alarm system had failed.
Once news of the outage broke, biologists and environmental groups raised concernsabout the fish likely killed from the low flows. In response, Ada County and Enel have agreed on plans for a river restoration project this fall. Joe Kozfkay of Idaho Fish and Game says the project could be a big help to the fishery. 

“This is a large scale one and we hope this can be replicated throughout the river to improve habitat for trout," says Kozfkay.
The project will include moving about 50 boulders into the river near Barber Dam to give brown and rainbow trout more cover. Kozfkay says the idea is to give the fish more protection from predators.
Ada County is contributing $30,000 dollars for the project while Enel will provide $15,000. 
“I think that Ada County really stepped up and I think that Enel partially stepped up,” says Kozfkay. 
Find Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2016 Boise State Public Radio

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

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