Blackfoot River, Idaho Home Rivers Initiative
The Blackfoot River in Idaho is located in what is known as the Southeast Idaho phosphate patch, where there are several active and non-active phosphate mines within the Blackfoot Watershed. Selenium, a byproduct from the mines, can be very detrimental to fish and is a threat to the fish in the watershed. The Blackfoot also is threatened by over population of white pelicans which live on Gull Island, an island in the middle of Blackfoot Reservoir. The white pelicans feed on spawning cutthroat when they leave the reservoir and run up river to spawn. This problem is made worse anytime when flows in the river are low, or during drought periods.
Also, like many western rivers, the Blackfoot has suffered from overuse by livestock which has left the river with unstable banks, no plant life to create streamside habitat and to provide cover for fish. We are working in the headwater tributaries of the Blackfoot to remove fish barriers, to keep fish from getting caught in irrigation diversions and to remove barriers throughout the river so that Yellowstone cutthroat trout can have access to upstream historic spawning and rearing habitat. We're also working with ranchers to help improve the land adjacent to the stream to improve conditions.
TU conducted an extensive scientific analysis of the Blackfoot watershed to evaluate whether a restoration project would benefit the area and determined that the river and its surrounding area would indeed benefit from such an effort. We also studied various barriers throughout the watershed and assessed irrigation diversions and barriers to fish migration, which resulted in an approach that will target specific areas that will benefit from an investment in the restoration of the area. Using that roadmap, we will be able to address the exact areas that will benefit from our work.
We've removed two fish barrier diversions--one on Diamond Creek and another on Lanes Creek, which have opened up 25 to 30 miles of new habitat for spawning Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Both have been completely rebuilt to allow fish to move through the diversions. We have also installed fish screens in irrigation ditches to prevent fish loss.
Matt Woodard, Blackfoot Home Rivers Initiative Manager