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Archive for the ‘Lower Coeur d’Alene Basin’ Category

In our line of work, we often need to remind ourselves that not everyone knows what we’re talking about. When we advocate for cleanup of the Coeur d’Alene basin, for example, we sometimes forget that not everyone knows that it’s a big mess.

Recently, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Idaho’s DEQ did a survey of what people know – and don’t know – about the Lake and its environmental problems. At noon on Thursday at the Iron Horse, Rebecca Stevens from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Becki Witherow from DEQ will discuss the study.

We’ve seen a preview of presentation, and the results are fascinating. Most area residents know that the lake is indeed cleaner than it was in the 70s, but few understood that mining wastes remain a problem and few knew that metals are still entering the lake. Residents were generally aware of bank erosion problems from boat wakes, and they were generally aware that growth and development are related to water quality. But there was limited understanding in the general public about the Lake Management Plan and the details of the Coeur d’Alene basin cleanup. There was very little understanding of the roles of different agencies involved in the Lake’s water quality efforts. A good percentage, though, thought mandatory measures were appropriate to protect water quality.

So, in other words, our work is still cut out for us.

 

 

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Late last week, we were forwarded an email from Greg Clark with the U.S. Geological Survey, whose team did some water monitoring during the flood event January 18th of this year. The monitoring in Harrison, where the Coeur d’Alene River flows into Coeur d’Alene Lake, shows that the conveyor belt of contamination from the upper basin to the lower basin was particularly bad during the flood this year.

According to Clark’s email, a measurement of the concentration of lead in the water at Harrison was the second highest ever recorded, the highest being a major flood in 1996. Also, the sample had the highest concentration of zinc and highest concentration of cadmium in more than 20 years. Clark said, “Based on these numbers, the load of lead delivered to the lake on January 18 alone was about 160 metric tons, or about 75% of the mean annual load of lead delivered to the lake during 2004 through 2009.” (Our emphasis.) However, Clark noted that sampling at the Lake’s outlet on January 20 was low, indicating that most of the lead settled to the lake bottom.

More disturbingly, however, is the measurement of flooding right before the peak. According to Clark, the river flow at Cataldo was higher than what was measured at the peak of the 2008 flood, but river the flow at Harrison was quite a bit lower. Clark says that this flow data indicates that a great deal of the water — and its accompanying sediment and metal contamination — was dumped into the lateral lakes along the lower basin. As Clark somewhat understated it in the email: “Obviously not good news as far as wildlife is concerned.”

Aerial photo of Coeur d'Alene River flooding at Harrison in 2008

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Migrating birds can’t read the signs in the lower Coeur d’Alene basin.  They don’t know that much of the basin is contaminated with heavy metals, and they don’t know that simply landing to rest and to feed could be lethal.  Every year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collects at least 150 dead tundra swans in the Coeur d’Alene River corridor. Short of cleaning up the entire mess, which will take decades at the earliest, what can be done to keep the birds from getting sick?

The EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with the help of Ducks Unlimited, recently restored a 400 acre wetland tract just north of Medimont, with the purpose of making it clean and safe for birds and wildlife. But also, as an EPA staffer put it, “We want to make it as attractive as possible, so birds say, ‘Let’s overnight here!'” The wetland restoration needed to be irresistibly good.

This week’s meeting, noon Thursday at the Iron Horse, features a fascinating discussion with Brian Spears from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on this natural resource restoration in the lower Coeur d’Alene basin. The restoration project, begun in 2007, is showing truly remarkable results. It is, by design, the most attractive wetland on the river. Birds are flocking to it.

 

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