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Idaho State University

Ecology and community perceptions of the Portneuf River

Idaho State University Participants

Danelle Larson, Colden Baxter, Donna Lybecker, Jim Stoutenborough, Rob Edsall, Jade Ortiz

Partners and Affilation

Greg Mladenka, Lynn Van Every, Jennifer Cornell, Hannah Harris (Idaho Department of Environmental Quality), Hannah Sanger (City of Pocatello)

Research Problem

Like many rivers of the semi-arid western U.S., the Portneuf River as it passes through Pocatello, Idaho is characterized by problems of water quantity and quality, and the community faces challenges in developing a management strategy that addresses the various tradeoffs among the range of potential and realized ecosystem services provided by the river. One of the first tasks of the MILES program has been to create a reciprocal connection between social-ecological science focused on this river, and the public planning and policy-making centered on the river corridor in this region.

Research Outcomes

Our studies are characterizing the Portneuf River as a complex social ecological system driven on the one hand by conflict and contradictions, but on the other by a growing, cooperative desire for change in the state of the river and the community's connection to it. The river's current degraded water quality and impaired ecosystem services are a complicated outcome of the tradeoffs between meeting agricultural water use demand and providing flood control, versus addressing the contradictory federal mandate of the Clean Water Act and a new groundswell of community interest in restoring the health of the river. We are identifying key ways in which community perceptions may lack alignment with empirically-described ecological characteristics, which could reinforce vulnerability of river-related ecosystem services. Alternatively, as such disconnects are identified and communicated, MILES science is aiding in development of a new community planning document, based on the "Portneuf River Vision Study.”

Potential Impacts

Impacts have included identification of key drivers of water quality problems for the Portneuf River, linking those to measurements of existing community perceptions and values regarding the river, and communicating them to the community and stakeholder groups involved in planning. We have also developed a close working relationship between our social ecological systems investigations of the Portneuf River and the City of Pocatello's coordinated "Portneuf River Vision Study,” by which the community is generating a long--range plan for the management and improvement of the Portneuf River. Hence, the work is expected to have long-term consequences for the Portneuf River and the community that relies upon its ecosystem services, but may serve as an example for other communities that face similar challenges.