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Posts Tagged ‘Clean Water Act’

For whatever the reason — budget priorities, neglect, antipathy to federal mandates — Idaho’s lack of proper attention to clean water is tilting toward disaster.

The Clean Water Act is one of this country’s most important environmental laws. Passed by Congress in 1972, it is responsible for some impressive success stories in the nation’s environmental history. However, in Idaho, the state’s failure to implement some of the basic requirements of the Clean Water Act is putting our waterways at risk.

For two years, Idaho has failed to do the basic water quality monitoring that is the underpinning of the Clean Water Act. Idaho has also failed to put into place the required regulations to keep clean waters from being degraded. Idaho is one of only four states that still refuses to issue water quality permits, leaving it up to the EPA to do so.  Idaho hasn’t found a way to properly regulate septic systems or stormwater. Idaho does a poor job of addressing non-point source pollution. And there is very little in the way of enforcement.

Clean water in Idaho is central to a healthy populace and a healthy economy. Clean water, in many respects, is what makes Idaho a great place to live.

But Idaho’s water quality program is dangerously close to violating both the letter and spirit of the Clean Water Act, and without more, the state is perhaps heading for a lawsuit trainwreck.  More importantly though, we don’t believe Idaho’s approach to water quality comports what Idahoans want from their government.  Tell the governor. Tell your legislators. We need a Clean Water Revival.

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We got word over the weekend that the Spokane Riverkeeper is intervening in the pending TMDL lawsuit brought by Idaho polluter-plaintiffs Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene, and the Hayden Area Regional Sewer Board.  Recall that the Idaho dischargers filed a complaint in federal district court challenging the dissolved oxygen total maximum daily load (TMDL) issued for the Spokane River.

The litigation, which has cost North Idaho ratepayers and taxpayers more than $800,000 in legal and consulting fees, mostly asks that North Idaho dischargers be subject to the same standards as Washington’s.  This is arguably the case already. But regardless of the outcome, the Idaho plaintiffs will still need to install the very same pollution control equipment.  Notably, the Idaho dischargers are also participating in discussions of pollution trading — to be premised on the very TMDL they are challenging in Court.

We hear that settlement discussions are scheduled between EPA and the Idaho plaintiffs, and the many other lawyers which are necessarily now involved. The formal intervention will allow the Riverkeeper to participate in the settlement discussions that may – or may not – allow the Idaho dischargers to end their quixotic quest to modify the TMDL to their liking. Then, hopefully, we can get on with the cleanup of the river.

 

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We had some interesting discussions yesterday about our blog posting about Idaho’s water monitoring meltdown. Recall that we wrote:

We know that Idahoans care deeply about water quality. The failure of DEQ to accomplish the very basic minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act should be unacceptable. The legislature, which has zeroed the water monitoring budget for two consecutive years, needs to provide the resources to DEQ to do its work before the U.S. EPA, or a federal court, is forced to step in.

Some of our friends thought that we were (slightly) unfair in calling it a”failure of DEQ” to get the job done, because in fact, DEQ has requested the money for water monitoring in their budget submittals. Instead, our friends suggest, the financing failure belongs to Butch Otter, whose budget leadership is followed by the legislature, and whose budget priorities are decidedly elsewhere.

We wonder if this is a fine point that’s significant, or whether it’s a distinction without a difference. The responsibility for Clean Water Act implementation is squarely with DEQ. It isn’t optional, and Idaho’s state code makes it clear what needs to be done and who needs to do it. But if the Department asks for, but doesn’t get the resources, what is it supposed to do? More to the point, who should Idahoans hold accountable for this mess?

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As required by the Clean Water Act, the Department of Environmental Quality has just issued its draft “Integrated Report” on the state of water quality in the State of Idaho.  The utter failure of Idaho to do necessary water quality monitoring is probably the most glaring finding.

According to the draft report, of  5747 distinct waterways in Idaho, 2108 have insufficient data to determine the threshhold question of whether Clean Water Act standards are being met. That corresponds to 33,523 miles of rivers and 186,677 acres of freshwater lakes that have insufficient monitoring data or any other information on which to determine what measures, if any, are needed to protect those waterways.  The new report seems to show no improvement whatsoever from the 2008 report in which 37% of state waterways had not been assessed. Meanwhile, some 900 waterways — another 16,659 miles of rivers and 208,102 acres of freshwater lakes — are impaired but do not yet have a cleanup plan.

To put it more plainly, more than half of Idaho’s waterways are suffering from Idaho DEQ’s failure to properly administer the Clean Water Act.

But that’s not all. What about the other half? The report indicates that 1,242 waterways are, in fact, impaired and need cleanup actions to restore water quality.  In this category, there are 20,004 miles of rivers and 148,257 acres of freshwater lakes that have an approved TMDL cleanup plan.  But very little in the way of TMDL implementation is evident.

We know that Idahoans care deeply about water quality. The failure of DEQ to accomplish the very basic minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act should be unacceptable. The legislature, which has zeroed the water monitoring budget for two consecutive years, needs to provide the resources to DEQ to do its work before the U.S. EPA, or a federal court, is forced to step in.

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Our great friend and office neighbor Mary Lou Reed invited us to a last minute lunch today with Keith Allred, candidate for Idaho Governor.  Allred, who was in the area for a number of events, evidently hadn’t completely filled his calendar, so a small group of “Friends of Mary Lou” got an invitation to have lunch at the Iron Horse and discuss North Idaho issues with the candidate.

(KEA, of course, has a deal with the IRS about not endorsing candidates and not being involved in elections. And we adhere scrupulously to those rules.  But we are allowed to talk to candidates about our issues, and we are allowed to inform our members about those issues and what candidates say.)

To the small gathering, Allred gave what amounted to a mini 10-minute version of a stump speech, and then opened the meeting to questions. Not surprisingly, Allred spoke about the bigger state-level issues of taxes and education, where he is attempting to distinguish his record from that of incumbent Governor Butch Otter. However, quite a bit of the question-and-answer session pertained to local issues with a conservation focus.

KEA's Cathleen O'Connor with Candidate for Governor Keith Allred today at the Iron Horse, photo by KEA BlackberryCam

Allred was first asked about the proposed 3-way land swap with developers M3 Eagle, Idaho Forest Group and the BLM, and acknowledged that he was mostly familiar with the southern portion of the deal and was less familiar with the northern portion. He noted, correctly, that in any land exchange deal, the details are very important and that a complex deal should be studied carefully to maintain a balance of values. In response to another question about state lands, he affirmed that the public interest is very important in considering how those lands should be used.

We had the opportunity to ask Allred about the state’s Clean Water Act dysfunction – the failure to do water quality monitoring, the failure to implement cleanup plans on local lakes, in particular – and Allred took a subtle swipe at his opponent saying that that rather than sitting back and railing at the federal mandates of the Clean Water Act and fighting in courts, Idaho would be better off if it invested in managing its own Clean Water Act program (like all but 4 of the other 50 states do) and coming up with Idaho solutions to Idaho problems.

Interestingly, we had a very similar conversation with Idaho DEQ Administrator Toni Hardesty at a meeting concerning the Spokane River TMDL last week. She admitted that she was in an “awkward” position to be negotiating for Idaho interests with the State of Washington when her agency does not have the authority to issue Clean Water Act permits. But she said the costs of taking over the federal program were a deterrent.

We’ll be interested in how this debate plays out in the campaign this fall. It appears to be a clear distinction between the candidates, and we know that voters take clean water issues very seriously.

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Thomas Midgley, Jr

Perhaps one of the more important legal decisions nobody knows about just yet. Logging roads will now require stormwater permits under the Clean Water Act. — A New Century of Forest Planning

How money to clean up the Silver Valley was lost to a politically connected British businessman  — The Johnson Post

SHT loads up the Lochsa. (That’s “super huge trucks” in case you were wondering.) — Idaho Conservation League and a great SHT-related video.

The high cost of free parking — New York Times

And the winner is… The worst environmental destroyer of all time is Thomas Midgley, Jr. — the guy who invented chlorofluorcarbons AND put lead in gasoline.  Who else even comes close? — Legal Planet

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Admittedly, it is difficult trying to explain to laypersons why the Spokane River TMDL is reasonably fair even though it seems a little tilted toward Washington’s polluters. But then we read an outstanding overview of the issues on the Spokane River Forum’s very informative website. With an issue-by-issue summary, in a point/counterpoint format, the Forum describes the issues raised by the Idaho polluters in their lawsuit, and what each side says about them. The whole article is well worth reading, even if still a bit technical. But on the fairness issue, it’s worth highlighting the discussion on a couple of points we hear raised over and over again:

Point: Idaho dischargers are being asked to remove more phosphorus from their water treatment plants effluent (what is discharged into the river) than Washington dischargers.

Counterpoint: Except for Kaiser (which has a lower limit), all dischargers have the same phosphorus limits based on a monthly average of 50 ug/L. What looks like Idaho being given a higher standard is based on using a seasonal vs. monthly statistical average. Idaho dischargers requested a seasonal average, thus lowering the limit to 36 ug/L. Sampling frequency and fluctuation in effluent quality causes the required seasonal average to be lower than the monthly average. EPA has stated that Idaho dischargers can return to using a monthly average.

Point: Population growth projections by 2027 factor into determining phosphorus reduction requirements. Figures used for Idaho underestimate growth, further exacerbating requirements that Idaho discharges consider too stringent.

Counterpoint: Idaho utilities supplied the figures used. A late request from Post Falls and Hayden to change their figures was refused. The figures were refused because they use growth projections well above the historic norm and are not consistent with projections used in Kootenai County’s comprehensive plan. If the projections are incorrect, they can be adjusted in the mandated 10 year assessment.

We’ll say it again. This just doesn’t seem worth litigating.

UPDATE 8/5: The Coeur d’Alene Press reports that the municipalities have spent a stunning $800,000 fighting the TMDL so far. And they’ve just gone to Court.

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