Ada County Owns Hydroelectric Plant Responsible For Dramatic Drop In Boise River

Feb 9, 2015

It's still not clear what caused last week's malfunction at the Barber Dam in Boise. As we reported last week, the Boise River backed up behind the dam after an apparent power outage shut down the plant late Tuesday night. The river dropped well-below normal flows for almost eight hours before the dam's operators got it back up and running.

Enel Green Power is an international company, which leases the dam from Ada County. County spokesperson Jessica Donald says the company is still looking into exactly what happened last week to cause the dam to restrict the flow of water.

"What I can say is, those involved are still trying to figure out why it happened, but additional safety measures have been taken to keep it from happening again," says Donald.

This Instagram image shows what Barber Dam looks like today.
Credit Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

Donald says since last week's shutdown, Enel Green Power has installed a secondary alert system that's being monitored around the clock. Ada County has had a contract with the company since 1986, and the 35-year lease will be up in 2021. Idaho Power buys the energy generated at Barber Dam, which is used to power 3,500 homes. The county's ownership of the power plant dates back to the late 1970s and the dam itself was constructed in 1904.

Donald says the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has also asked for an investigation into what happened at Barber Dam. FERC regulates and monitors power generation and dams.

Idaho Fish and Game says zero flows right below Barber Dam could have lasting effects on this year’s trout population. Last Friday, the Idaho Conservation League sent a letter to Ada County and Enel officials asking for them to consider sponsoring a river restoration project "as a show of their appreciation and understanding of how important the Boise River is to the species that call it home."

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