Residents of Boundary County can be proud to have the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho so deeply involved in efforts to restore the health of the Kootenai River and its unique fish species, particularly the White Sturgeon.

Contractors working for the tribe started restoration of the river’s banks on two projects near Bonners Ferry in July and are scheduled to finish sometime in November of this year. Both projects are quite close to town, so residents, tourists and businesses in the area of the Highway 95 bridge are likely to see and hear the work in progress. 

What they’re doing

The Straight Reach Project is just west of the bridge in the direction of the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge. The Straight Reach entails construction of two separate rock structures, one on each side of the river, intended to inhibit and redirect river currents to create a better, more sustainable fish habitat. It includes careful placement of rock on the river bottom as well, using a barge, to create hiding places for newly hatched sturgeon. 

These rocks provide solid footing so to speak for sturgeon eggs to stick to in the current. When these eggs hatch, the young sturgeon can hide from predators in the crevasses between rocks. Burbot (freshwater ling) will also use the rock structures for their spawning activities during the winter.

Infrequent boaters navigating the river will not likely be troubled by this activity as the rocks placed are submerged in deeper water.

The other project is called Bonners Ferry Islands Project. It is located upstream from the bridge primarily on the south (city) side of the river. Its counterpart was completed last summer on the north side of the same water. That work entails excavation of two pools and subsequent creation of two islands. This year, contractors are excavating an additional pool adjacent to the long gravel bar. 

These large pools provide places for sturgeon and other fish species to rest and feed. The expectation of these efforts is that the pools will also provide a deeper channel in this area better allowing sturgeon, which can be six feet and even longer in length, to migrate upstream past this shallow water area to reach natural spawning grounds further upstream.

What to expect

Regarding the Straight Reach Project on the south bank, contractors set up a staging area just off Riverside Street on the south bank. A temporary rock stockpile and barge-loading and landing site were built just above what we all recognize as the Search and Rescue boat ramp. This was done so that the ramp, which could be critical to any necessary rescue attempt, would never be blocked nor efforts inhibited by restoration work on the river.

The barge was assembled at the Deep Creek ramp by a crane, but moored just above the Search and Rescue ramp. Since placement in August, it has made frequent trips each day to carry rock for placement on substrate clusters identified by the tribe. By the time we go to press, deployment of the barge should be finished.Following its load-bearing service it will be taken back to Deep Creek and there disassembled. Passersby may have noticed the 100-foot conveyor belt used to load the barge with rock from the stockpile.

On the north bank of the Straight Reach Project, one of the rock structures, including the rock spur mentioned above, has now been placed west of Birch Street and can be accessed from North River Drive. 

By and large, traffic flow has been little affected. Only occasional and rather minor inconvenience has been experienced in the North River Drive and Birch Street areas. 

Regarding the Bonners Ferry Islands Project, a staging area was set upstream from Bonners Ferry on private land from which a coffer dam was constructed to allow equipment access to the gravel bar. It will be removed in late October when the restoration is completed. 

Most of the vegetation removed from the island was salvaged for transplanting later during the project. A new pool has been excavated in this area, and the materials raised during excavation were used to rebuild the river banks where needed and establish a more sustainable floodplain. 

If you’ve noticed the timber being driven into the river bed, that serves the purpose of redirecting river flow while preventing massive erosion of the bank. These timbers, when submerged, also providing holding water for trout, burbot and sturgeon, as they are great fish habitat makers. You might also have seen or heard pile driving during August and September, which is used for vertical placement of log structures much for the same purpose.

As the City of Bonners Ferry in collaboration with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho is very appreciative and proud of this work, they post project updates and information bi-weekly at various locations about town. You’ll also find updates posted regularly on the tribe’s website at www.restoringthekootenai.org

In summary

All of this river restoration is part of the ongoing multi-years long Kootenai River Habitat Restoration Program in which the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho is a primary player. It is funded primarily by the Bonneville Power Administration through a program administered by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Department of Fish & Wildlife.

The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho appreciates your support of this important restoration project as well as your patience and understanding, as it certainly benefits all of us by sustaining the life and well-being of this central part of our watershed.

For more information, contact Susan Ireland, Director of the Fish & Wildlife Department of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho at 208.267.3620.

If you think about it, we are all extremely blessed to have this mitigation from the Bonneville Power Administration in cooperation with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho being done to restore this important river body that carries and sustains life throughout the region. 

The Kootenai River originates in the Canadian Rockies and from there flows south through Lake Koocanusa to churn through the turbans of the Bonneville Power Plant at Libby, Montana. From there, it turns westward to flow through Idaho’s Panhandle past Bonners Ferry after which it turns north again toward Port Hill where it returns to Canada before reaching the Columbia River at Kettle Falls. Where it could have been destroyed, it is now being restored to the benefit of all life species utilizing its most precious asset: clean, clear, ever-flowing water. 

Contributing writer, Dwayne Parsons is a Realtor for Century 21 Beutler & Associates of Coeur d’Alene working primarily in Bonner and Boundary counties. He can be contacted by email at dparsons@21goldchoice.com.

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