2016 Year in Review

This was a great year for Idaho Rivers United, a year of many accomplishments, a leadership transition and a big win for Idaho's endangered salmon. We stopped a new dam proposal on the Bear River of southeast Idaho and continued our work to protect the Wild and Scenic rivers of the Clearwater River basin. 

While reading the following list of accomplishments, please remember that you are part of the team. These struggles and victories are yours. None of the accomplishments would have happened without your generous financial support and partnership. Thank you, and please consider renewing your membership or giving a year-end gift today.

Hundreds of IRU members help plan organization's vision

In late January 2016 IRU issued a survey to gather feedback about the organization’s conservation work, outreach and communications. More than 150 members and supporters responded, and that feedback became an integral part of the organization’s new strategic plan, called Vision 2020, which maps out IRU’s work through 2020. Click here to read more...

Coalition scolds Corps of Engineers for 2015 sockeye death toll

In February 2016, IRU helped lead a coalition of organizations to scold the Army Corps of Engineers for doing too little during the summer of 2015 when more than 95 percent of Idaho's endangered sockeye perished because of high water temperatures. “The Army Corps' inability to protect returning adult salmon from high water temperatures caused the unauthorized ‘take’ of ESA-listed Snake River sockeye in 2015,” the signatories wrote in their Feb. 9 letter. “Similar fish kills in 2016 or 2017 could push Snake River sockeye to the brink of extinction and erase progress made to recover this distinct population.” Click here to read more… 

House committee kills perennial suction dredging bill

Idaho's rivers and fish won Feb. 24 when the Idaho House Resources and Conservation Committee voted to nix a bill that sought to exempt recreational dredge mining from state water quality regulations. About 100 people gathered at the Idaho statehouse to weigh in on House Bill 510, sponsored by Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins. It was the third consecutive year Shepherd brought a failed dredging bill to the Legislature, and it was the second time such a bill earned a rebuke from the Attorney General's office. Click here to read more… 

IRU draws attention to Boise River toxic site

Crews working on the new greenbelt extension between Garden City and Boise unearthed an apparent illegal toxic site Feb 26. The dump, which consisted of contaminated soil of an unknown depth ringed by cinder blocks, was on the south side of the Boise River between Fairview and Chinden. IRU contacted applicable state agencies to ensure the site was properly cleaned up. Click here to read more… 

New study on lower Snake dams cites huge recreational loss

In 2015, Anthony Jones of Rocky Mountain Econometrics produced two reports on the economics of the lower Snake River Dams. The first report examines hydropower generation and the second takes a look at the navigation system. In 2016 there was a new study from Tacoma, Wash.-based Earth Economics that looked at the overall economics of the dams, including the lost recreational opportunities from maintaining the status quo. The conclusion of Earth Economics—with input from Jim Waddell, a retired Corps of Engineers engineer—was that for every dollar American taxpayers spend to maintain the dams, 15 cents is returned in benefits. In contrast, Earth Economics estimates that removing the dams would provide a $4 benefit for every $3 invested in the system. Click here to read more… 

IRU makes debut at Treefort Music Festival

March is a time when Boise comes together to celebrate community and culture. For the fifth year in 2016, that celebration took the form of a variety of Forts that were collectively part of the Treefort Music Festival, an annual event that in many ways has put Boise back on the map. There’s Treefort itself, with more than 500 bands at venues across downtown Boise. There’s also Storyfort, Yogafort, Foodfort, Alefort and, new last year, Treefort Serve365, which Idaho Rivers United was thrilled to be a part of. Click here to read more… 

Strategic partnerships amplify Water conservation message

Creating meaningful and positive changes in the health of Idaho’s rivers starts at home. Big changes in our river ecosystems start with a host of small changes at an individual level. Both Aveda Salons and SUEZ have been key partners in our work to protect and conserve Idaho's water resources. SUEZ has been an ongoing partner for nearly a dozen years, and Aveda has partnered with IRU each of the past three Aprils for Earth Month.

Click here to read more...

Judge hammers federal salmon plan with powerful ruling

In a strong 149-page ruling delivered May 4, federal District Judge Michael Simon lambasted the federal government for failing to show that its dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers aren't driving endangered salmon and steelhead toward extinction. It was the fifth consecutive time in 25 years that a federal judge overturned a salmon plan. Simon was the third judge to do so. IRU has been fighting this fight since the organization's founding in 1990, a year before Idaho's sockeye salmon were listed as an endangered species. Simon's ruling was among the strongest issued. Click here to read more...

Kevin Lewis takes over as IRU executive director

After running the conservation work at IRU for 12 years, Kevin Lewis took over as the organization’s executive director June 1. Lewis is no stranger to running a small business, exercising leadership or understanding the ins and outs of IRU’s day-to-day operations. During his 12 years at IRU he worked as a key adviser to two executive directors and maintained a tight working relationship with the board of directors. Click here to read more… 

Guide education effort reaches hundreds during spring orientations

During April, May and June, IRU Guide Education Specialist Natalie Shellworth met with hundreds of river guides all over Idaho to talk about Wild and Scenic Rivers and endangered wild salmon. Collectively, Idaho’s river guides will talk with thousands of visitors over the course of the paddling season. With Idaho’s incredible rivers as their classrooms, guides are extremely well positioned to educate and motivate people to take action on behalf of Idaho’s wild rivers and native fish. Click here to read more… 

Bear River dam proposal officially denied

A never-say-die dam proposal for the Bear River of southeast Idaho finally died in 2016. Citing a host of environmental concerns raised by IRU and our allies, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on June 16 formally rejected the application to build a new hydropower dam at the Bear River narrows, a scenic canyon east of Preston and an area popular with anglers and paddlers. The Commission’s order adopted a staff recommendation made Oct. 1 and denied the original application by Twin Lakes Canal Company for a 10 megawatt dam and hydro facility. Click here to read more…

Judge blocks Boise River headwaters mine for now

U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge found July 11 that the Forest Service had erroneously approved the CuMo Exploration Project in the Boise River headwaters without adequate environmental analysis. The case was brought by a coalition of Boise conservation groups including IRU. Click here to read more… 

IRU wins protection for Wild and Scenic Selway River

Since May 2015, IRU and allies vigorously opposed two separate logging operations that would have seriously degraded the Wild and Scenic values of the Selway River. In 2016 we successfully blocked and won the first case and won an emergency injunction on the second that caused the Forest Service to withdraw its approval. Click here to read more… 

Departures Magazine features Idaho salmon

Through the effort and expertise of the Idaho Rivers United community, Idaho’s salmon found their way into the national spotlight in August. In Austin Merrill’s feature article, “Rafting the River of No Return,” published in Departures magazine's August 2016 issue, longtime IRU board member and avid salmon advocate Tom Stuart joined Merrill to discuss the issues facing Idaho’s endangered salmon. Click here to read more… 

Groups file 60 day notice challenging EPA to act on heat-driven salmon kills

In response to rising water temperatures and inaction by federal agencies, several Pacific Northwest groups, including IRU, filed on Aug. 15 to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take action and prevent massive, heat-driven fish kills. In 2015 scientists recorded the warmest year on record, and hot water killed 250,000 adult sockeye salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers. The groups, including Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association and the Institute for Fisheries Resources, said that can’t happen again. Click here to read more…

Salmon Fest and Flotilla draw hundreds

In August hundreds of Idahoans gathered in Stanley for IRU’s annual Sawtooth Salmon Festival where IRU partnered with the Stanley Museum and biologists to lead tours of wild salmon spawning in their natal waters. In September, IRU helped plan and lead the second annual Free the Snake Flotilla, where more than 300 people from throughout the region gathered to paddle on Lower Granite Reservoir and draw attention to the plight of endangered salmon.

Federal agencies gather public input about dam operations

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, about 300 Idahoans gathered on the second floor of the Grove Hotel in downtown Boise to speak with one voice on behalf of a free-flowing lower Snake River and restoration of wild salmon. Two weeks earlier about 100 Idahoans gathered in Lewiston to do the same. The meetings were part of a months-long (and still going) public input process conducted by federal agencies, which were forced by a federal judge to take a new look at dam operations and how they’re impacting endangered salmon. More than 100,000 people from the Pacific Northwest and beyond have filed comments seeking a free-flowing lower Snake River. The comment period, recently extended, closes Feb. 7, 2017.

Water rights secured to guarantee flows in Owyhee Canyonlands

The Wild and Scenic rivers of the Bruneau and Owyhee river basins are guaranteed to have water flowing in perpetuity after a district judge approved federal reserve water rights for 16 rivers and creeks in November. It was the final step to implementing river-related policies after adoption of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009. Click here to read more… 

Idaho Transportation Department adopts megaloads rules

The state of Idaho on Nov. 17 adopted new rules to regulate huge loads of equipment (called megaloads) on U.S. Highway 12 in North Idaho despite a court injunction blocking such loads. Public comments, including those submitted by IRU and IRU members, were overwhelmingly against the new rules. Meanwhile, IRU continued throughout 2016 to meet with the U.S. Forest Service and Nez Perce Tribe in court-mediated sessions to seek long-term solutions to the issue. Click here to read more…

Idaho Statesman reconfirms call to remove lower Snake dams

In 1997 the Idaho Statesman wrote a groundbreaking package of editorials that concluded removing the lower Snake River dams made economic sense, and would restore endangered salmon. The three-part, eight-page package, titled “Dollars, Sense & Salmon,” set the tone for two decades of support from the paper for dam removal. On Dec. 2, 2016, following a meeting with IRU representatives, the Idaho Statesman editorial board reconfirmed its position for the first time in at least two years.

Peyette Brewing chooses IRU as holiday partner

Beer is more than 90 percent water, and the quality of this essential ingredient is paramount to the quality of a great microbrew. For this reason and a whole lot more, IRU was proud during the 2016 holiday season to partner with Payette Brewing as the recipient of sales from the Payette Forward IPA holiday brew. Thanks to Payette for the continued partnership and for supporting an array of important Idaho nonprofits. Click here to read more…