The Watershed

The Watershed

The second largest tributary of the Columbia River in terms of runoff volume, the Kootenai River subbasin straddles the U.S. and Canadian border and includes portions of British Columbia, Montana, and Idaho. All together, it encompasses 19,000 square miles, making it the third largest watershed in the Columbia River system in terms of overall size.

The headwaters of the Kootenai River, spelled Kootenay in Canada, originate in Kootenay National Park, B.C. The river flows south into the Rocky Mountain Trench, and then enters Lake Koocanusa, a reservoir created by Libby Dam near Libby, Montana. After leaving the reservoir, the river flows west, passes through a gap between the Purcell and Cabinet Mountains and enters Idaho. From Bonners Ferry, it flows northward through flat agricultural land (formerly a floodplain/wetland complex) toward the Idaho-Canada border. North of the border, it runs past the city of Creston, B.C. and into the south arm of Kootenay Lake.

Prior to European-American settlement, the floodplain from Bonners Ferry to Creston was one of the largest and most diverse riparian forest and wetland complexes in the Pacific Northwest. The Kootenai River basin itself holds one of the highest diversities of aquatic invertebrate species in the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to the Yukon Over the last century the ecosystem has been altered by diking, agricultural conversion, logging, mining and infrastructure development. However, the most profound changes to the ecosystem are the result of the construction and ongoing operation of Libby Dam. The images below show the floodplain in 1914 and (inset) the floodplain today.

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When Libby Dam became operational in 1972 annual peak flows were reduced by half and the natural hydrograph, which historically featured a single spring freshet that provided energy and nutrients to drive ecosystem processes, was disrupted. Dam operations created unnatural flow fluctuations and significantly changed the annual temperature regime in the Kootenai River. The new flow regime, along with historical diking, limits the hydrologic connection between the Kootenai River and its floodplain resulting in loss of riparian and wetland plant and animal species, and the related functions that normally support a healthy ecosystem. Collectively, these impacts have led to declining and endangered populations of native fish and wildlife and their habitats.

The second largest tributary of the Columbia River in terms of runoff volume, the Kootenai River subbasin straddles the U.S. and Canadian border and includes portions of British Columbia, Montana, and Idaho. All together, it encompasses 19,000 square miles, making it the third largest watershed in the Columbia River system in terms of overall size.

The headwaters of the Kootenai River, spelled Kootenay in Canada, originate in Kootenay National Park, B.C. The river flows south into the Rocky Mountain Trench, and then enters Lake Koocanusa, a reservoir created by Libby Dam near Libby, Montana. After leaving the reservoir, the river flows west, passes through a gap between the Purcell and Cabinet Mountains and enters Idaho. From Bonners Ferry, it flows northward through flat agricultural land (formerly a floodplain/wetland complex) toward the Idaho-Canada border. North of the border, it runs past the city of Creston, B.C. and into the south arm of Kootenay Lake.

Prior to European-American settlement, the floodplain from Bonners Ferry to Creston was one of the largest and most diverse riparian forest and wetland complexes in the Pacific Northwest. The Kootenai River basin itself holds one of the highest diversities of aquatic invertebrate species in the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to the Yukon Over the last century the ecosystem has been altered by diking, agricultural conversion, logging, mining and infrastructure development. However, the most profound changes to the ecosystem are the result of the construction and ongoing operation of Libby Dam. The images below show the floodplain in 1914 and (inset) the floodplain today.

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When Libby Dam became operational in 1972 annual peak flows were reduced by half and the natural hydrograph, which historically featured a single spring freshet that provided energy and nutrients to drive ecosystem processes, was disrupted. Dam operations created unnatural flow fluctuations and significantly changed the annual temperature regime in the Kootenai River. The new flow regime, along with historical diking, limits the hydrologic connection between the Kootenai River and its floodplain resulting in loss of riparian and wetland plant and animal species, and the related functions that normally support a healthy ecosystem. Collectively, these impacts have led to declining and endangered populations of native fish and wildlife and their habitats.

AN INTEGRATED, COLLABORATIVE APPROACH


The Integrated Program is grounded in a core set of guiding principles:

  • Science-based–  Science-based decision making and management;
  • default_title–  Respect for and integration of Tribal cultural values and local social and economic values;
  • default_title–  Collaborative implementation in cooperation with co-managers and stakeholders including transboundary coordination;
  • default_title–  Incorporation of multi-disciplinary input and review;
  • default_title–  Understanding that when dealing with dynamic ecosystems, uncertainty is inevitable, therefore learning through structured adaptive management processes is critical.
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