“A tragic accident has taken away from us one of the true icons of western water”

“A tragic accident has taken away from us one of the true icons of Western water,” said former Interior secretary and Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus.

John Keys died in a plane crash on Friday, May 30, 2008 in southern Utah. John was Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation 2001-2006 and prior to that served as the Regional Director for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Pacific Northwest office based in Boise.

One of John’s favorite places was the South Fork Boise River, and his role as Regional Director in approving the flow operations at Anderson Ranch Dam in the 1980s helps make the South Fork Boise the great fishery it is today.

Indeed, there is a back story that needs to be researched and the full story told on how the South Fork Boise went from a situation in the late 1970s where additional hydropower facilities, and an additional “re-reg” dam downstream were contemplated, to a protected river with a rather friendly fish and recreation flow management regime from the mid 1980s through today. And no doubt John Keys will figure greatly in that story.

During the energy crisis years of the 1970s the Bureau of Reclamation explored potential hydropower enhancement at their water projects. Anderson Ranch Dam was studied for its potential to “follow load” on a daily basis — that means the river flows would yo-yo with electricity demand. An additional turbine would help handle high flows during the day. Nighttime flows would be meagre. An additional dam would be built a mile downstream to smooth out the changes in flow.

Idaho Fish and Game contributed studies during that period that showed the great potential for the South Fork Boise River. So did the University of Idaho. Eventually the hydropower expansion plans were scrapped during the energy surplus days of the early 1980s. Soon a new flow regime would be adopted in the operations manual for the Boise Project: 300 cfs in the winter (better than the inflow to Anderson Ranch), 600 cfs in spring for wild rainbow trout spawning, and a steady 1,600 cfs during the summer for boating flows.

How such a 180 degree turn could happen is the mystery that deserves a longer story. But for South Fork Boise River anglers it’s a story with a happy ending.

This all became a reality on John Keys’ watch. John was proud of the Bureau’s river flow management because it is a showcase of multiple use of our water resources where fisheries benefit in the upper Boise River basin while still meeting water delivery contracts to Treasure Valley farmers and cities. And John was pleased to be a water user on the South Fork, taking his raft down the South Fork canyon run from Danskin to Neal bridge.

Cecil Andrus was a personal friend of Keys who fished with him and shared his love of the outdoors. “If all public employees held themselves to the same level of competence and integrity that John did, we’d have a wonderful world,” Andrus said.

View of Reclamation Village