Boise River At Risk

After gold was discovered in the Boise Basin in 1862, the Boise River ran  brown with mud blasted from hillsides and stream beds by hydraulic placer mining in Mores Creek, Grimes Creek and other tributaries. The Boise River soon was dammed, diverted, and channelized, destroying vast tracts of riparian and wetland habitat to create farms, towns and industries.

The Caldwell Tribune reported in July 1889 that “the irrigating ditches are full of fish. Our law makers made a great mistake when they attempted to protect fish by law at the last session. There are more fish destroyed by irrigating ditches than by seines, dynamiting and all other causes combined.”

From the 1930s through the 1960s, the Boise River ran red with blood and offal from slaughterhouses in Boise and Garden City.

“The wastes from this plant which are discharged to a drain ditch tributary to the river without treatment are blood from the kill floor, wash water from the kill floor and other processing rooms, and the overflow from the septic tank which is used for disposal of the plant’s domestic sewage.” (Report of Pollution Problems in the Boise River, State of Idaho, 1962)

Until 1950, untreated sewage from tens of thousands of people was dumped directly into the Boise River.

After the gates of Lucky Peak Dam were closed in 1955, sections of the Boise River downstream went dry for months at a time.

Today’s Challenges

Once the 2nd most polluted river in Idaho, the Boise River has regained much of its natural function and value as a result of hard-fought battles by concerned citizens to  enact environmental regulations at the local, state and national level. But the work of concerned citizens to protect the Boise River is far from over.

Although the Boise River is now  the mostly highly recreated river in the state and its contribution to the Treasure Valley’s economy and quality of life is indisputable, the river continues to suffers from chronic pollution, encroachment, loss of habitat and the major threats of large mines and new dams.

The Boise River faces the challenge of many ecosystems, understood widely as the tragedy of the commons: the actions of individual landowners, water users, city councils, road builders, gravel pit operators, developers, farmers, wastewater dischargers and others, when taken together, are disrupting, impairing and re-engineering the ecosystem.

A new way of thinking and making decisions concerning the Boise River is needed today, an approach that places value on all of the benefits provided by the Boise River – whether they are bought and sold or delivered free of cost.

This new approach will need to be embraced by homeowners when they make decisions on home appliances and outside landscaping; by developers when they decide where to build and how to manage stormwater; by cities, counties and transportation districts when they permit new building or retrofit existing infrastructure; by farmers when they decide what to grow and how to irrigate it; and by many others whose large and small decisions affect the Boise River everyday.

Mega Mining and Water Don’t Mix

Idaho Rivers United has long been concerned with the possibility that large mines will be built in the headwaters of the Boise River, the source of our drinking and irrigation water and a natural place that supports abundant wildlife and recreation. A Canadian mining company has been exploring for molybdenum in the headwaters of Grimes Creek, not far from Idaho City, for over five years. The company claims the CuMo site is the largest unmined source of molybdenum in the world and their promotional materials have featured an enormous open pit mine. Mega mines elsewhere have caused serious and permanent water pollution, and Idaho Rivers United continues to watchdog this project and encourage public oversight. Visit the Idaho Rivers United website for more information.

A New Dam Will Create New Problems

The natural landscape and flow of the upper Boise River supports a healthy ecosystem and delivers clean water to all users downstream, including fish and wildlife. Construction of a new dam or raising the height of an existing dam would harm the river both above and below the dam and provide few, if any, benefits. Watch the video, share it with others and visit the Idaho Rivers United website for more information. And sign the Boise River Pledge!

Learn more about Boise River issues.