Friday, August 29, 2014

County approves project to improve fish habitat

Changes at Pole Creek designed to benefit salmon and steelhead

Express Staff Writer

A bridge similar to one installed upstream by the U.S. Forest Service, above, will replace a culvert on private property that impedes fish passage in Pole Creek. Photo by courtesy photo

    Permits approved by Blaine County will allow workers to start next week on a $2 million project intended to improve fish habitat on a tributary of the upper Salmon River.
     The Blaine County commissioners enthusiastically approved stream-alteration and floodplain conditional-use permits during a meeting Tuesday.
    Project goals are to improve fish passage and habitat on Pole Creek, which has been designated critical habitat for recovery of chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout.
    “What a great project. You guys are doing a really good service,” County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg told property owners Mike and Mark Henslee during the meeting Tuesday. “I think everybody wins from this.”
     A Review Environmental Assessment issued by the U.S. Forest Service last year states that the project was initiated by an application from Salmon Falls Land & Livestock Co., owned by the Henslee family in Hagerman, for reauthorization of its permit to divert water from the creek.


The work will take place about a half mile upstream from the junction of Pole Creek Road and state
Highway 75.

    “To authorize that, we need to make it compatible with the recovery of the species,” said Mark Moulton, water and fisheries program leader with the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, during an interview in April. “They’ve been willing and eager to enter into that dialogue.”
    The owners have already received permits from the Idaho Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Their last step in the process was to obtain permits from Blaine County to replace a culvert with a bridge and restore a historic channel meander. The channel will be realigned through an abandoned meander that was cut off when the culvert was installed. A replacement bridge will be installed at a relatively straight section of the creek.
    The work will take place about a half mile upstream from the junction of Pole Creek Road and state Highway 75, north of Galena Summit.
    The project, which involves 10 government agencies, would also leave more water in the creek by changing irrigation practices on 1,000 acres of private land and on 75 acres of Sawtooth National Forest parcels within that private holding. In return for receiving government funding, the Henslee family has agreed to leave at least 12 cubic-feet-per-second of water in the creek, which would increase volume and lower temperature.
    Moulton said during the meeting that the problem with the approximately 4-foot-diameter culvert is that during high water, it constricts the stream flow and speeds up the current to the point that fish can’t swim against it. He said the Forest Service has already replaced two culverts upstream.
    “This is the third and final culvert that is a passage problem,” he said. “Then we’ll have it all wrapped up in relation to fish passage.”
    Project leader Karma Bragg, with the Custer County Water and Soil Conservation District, said the Henslees will also install fencing along the creek that will keep cows out but allow pronghorn to pass under, develop other watering sites for livestock and reconfigure irrigation pivots to avoid rolling them through the creek.
    Bragg said the property owners will begin to plant vegetation along the creek in the spring, with the goal of returning the riparian area to at least 70 percent of natural conditions within three years.
    The Bonneville Power Administration is providing $980,000 for new irrigation pivots and $160,000 for new pipe. However, Bragg said in an interview, the Henslees will pay for the cost of new fences.
    “It’s going to completely reconfigure their property,” Bragg said. “Pretty much all of the interior fencing will have to be redone at their expense.”

Pole Creek project
For additional information on the Pole Creek project, see “In upper Salmon, a project for fish” in the April 23, 2014, edition.

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