Clark Fork River Delta Restoration Project
A proposal to address the erosion of wetland habitat types in a delta ecosystem due to altered hydrologic conditions
Extensive bank erosion has occurred to islands and shorelines in the Clark Fork River delta, resulting in losses of soil, native riparian and wetland vegetation, as well as the quantity and quality of fish and wildlife habitat. This erosion is the result of wave action and water level fluctuations of Lake Pend Oreille due to the operation of the Albeni Falls dam. In addition, about 15 – 25 percent of all habitat loss in the delta is attributed to the operation of the Cabinet Gorge dam located upstream on the Clark Fork River. The altered hydrology in the Clark Fork River and delta has resulted in changes in the wetland and aquatic vegetation cover, such that many of the delta’s wetland functions are severely impaired.
Ecologically, the Clark Fork River delta is important for providing connectivity between mountain ranges, providing nutrient and sediment transport, improving water quality, and for providing essential cover and feeding areas for migrating and breeding songbirds, waterbirds, waterfowl, raptors and numerous other species of wildlife. The Clark Fork River delta area is also extremely important to the local community and is culturally important to several tribes, including the Kalispel Tribe, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Confederated Tribes of the Salish and Kootenai and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians.
The goal of the restoration project is to protect areas vulnerable to erosion while improving and diversifying key riparian and wetland habitats behind the protection to restore ecological function in the Clark Fork River delta. To meet this goal the project has two focuses:
- To protect existing areas within the delta from further erosion using environmentally compatible stabilization methods, and,
- To restore and enhance the edge and interior areas; restoration and enhancement activities will add habitat complexity with large woody debris; promote diverse native riparian vegetation growth such as black cottonwood, dogwood and willow; and reduce non-native invasive reed canarygrass.
The project is proposed to occur in stages to reduce impacts to fish and wildlife, as well as to reduce interruptions to public access. Phase I will be implemented in stages, and all activity will be accessed from the Idaho Highway 200 (a designated National Scenic Byway). Phase I is scheduled to start in 2014, with construction ending in 2015, and planting efforts to follow. Phase II includes Area 5 (White Island) and Area 6 (Derr Island) and access to these areas would most likely be from the Johnson Creek Access Area. This work is still being developed and is not scheduled for implementation at this time.
The community has a strong interest in participating in the project and so the monitoring effort is being developed with input from the community and planned so volunteers have opportunities to participate and work with researchers. Right now, teams composed of governmental and non-governmental representatives, as well as members of the public are planning and implementing the planting and monitoring activities for the first phase of the Clark Fork River Delta Restoration Project. The public is welcome to participate and volunteer opportunities are posted on this website.
A Timeline of Important Events Leading to the Project Implementation
The Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-501) directed that measures be implemented by Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife to the extent affected by development and operation of hydropower projects on the Columbia River system. The Act also created the Northwest Power Planning Council, now referred to as the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (Council), which in turn developed the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program (Program). Under the Act, BPA has the authority and obligation to fund fish and wildlife mitigation activities that are consistent with the Council’s Program. Both the Clark Fork River delta and the Pack River delta are listed as the two top mitigation priorities under the Albeni Falls Wildlife Protection, Mitigation, and Enhancement Plan.
In 1988, the Albeni Falls Wildlife Protection, Mitigation and Enhancement Plan estimated a net wildlife loss due to the construction and inundation (C/I) of the Albeni Falls dam of 28,587 habitat units (HU) for eight evaluation species. By the end of 2013, with the collaboration of several agencies and tribes, 14,050 HU, approximately 49% of the total wildlife mitigation debt, is credited to the Albeni Falls mitigation ledger (crediting information obtained from the BPA website on December 23, 2013). No mitigation debt has been estimated or established for the wildlife losses associated with operating the Albeni Falls dam.
In 1999, the Clark Fork Settlement Agreement was made and entered into pursuant to Rule 602 of the Rules of Practice and Procedures of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In this agreement the Avista Corporation undertakes consultation with the other Parties (that include several tribes, federal and state agencies, and non-governmental organizations) to implement mitigation actions.
In 2008, a partnership was formed between the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), the Avista Corporation, Ducks Unlimited, and others to initiate a pilot restoration project in the Pack River delta. This project was completed in 2009, and demonstrated that island areas can be raised and vegetation established in delta areas, even in the presence of an altered hydrologic condition.
On June 1, 2012, the State of Idaho, Office of Energy Resources issued a letter of agreement to BPA addressing monitoring and mitigation efforts in the Lake Pend Oreille basin associated with the operation of Albeni Falls Dam consistent with BPA’s legal authorities under the Northwest Power Act. The letter outlines the five-year agreement with BPA to monitor and evaluate the effects of operations at Albeni Falls Dam, including a new Flexible Winter Power Operation. The new power operation may result in greater fluctuation of the surface elevation of Lake Pend Oreille during the winter months. The State of Idaho and BPA agreed that an independent third party consultant acceptable to both parties will be retained to evaluate shoreline erosion impacts.