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Posts Tagged ‘DEQ’

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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There’s a LOT of snow up on the passes this week. And what that also means, though, is that there’s a lot of salt being put on the roads on the passes. In a unique study, Idaho DEQ has taken a careful look at what happens to the road salt in the watersheds around 4th of July pass. And that’s the subject of yet another fascinating “lunch and learn” noon meeting at the Iron Horse this Thursday.

DEQ scientist Tyson Clyne will talk about some of the data collected, and what it might mean for aquatic life in the streams along the interstate. According to a preview presentation given to the Coeur d’Alene Watershed Advisory Group last month, Clyne says that the Idaho Department of Transportation puts down some 150-300 pounds of salt, per lane, per mile, per snowstorm event. On average, in our region, there are 30 such events each year.

Clyne’s study shows fairly significant loadings of salt into the local streams, but Idaho does not have numeric water quality standards governing the amount of salt allowed in a stream. The primary impact will be to fish spawning, but other impacts may also be felt to groundwater, soils, and nearby vegetation.

Despite alternatives like magnesium chloride, beet juice, and sand, it turns out that regular everyday salt might actually be the best choice for keeping roads passable. But the choice is not without impact. Join us to learn more.

 

 

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As you probably know, we’ve been rallying support for water quality monitoring for weeks now.  We have been calling on Gov. Otter to restore funding to the budget to perform one of the basic functions under the Clean Water Act, something the Governor and legislature have declined to fund for the past two years. Of course, this is exactly what you’d expect of your local grassroots conservation organization.

But guess what — we’re not the only ones. Because of the potential impact that another year of non-monitoring  would have on water quality permitting and municipal budgets, a number of Idaho municipalities have joined in the chorus. Boise, Nampa, Hailey, Moscow, Post Falls, Ponderay, and Blaine County are on record as supporting the water quality monitoring line item in the budget.  (And we believe that more municipalities will be weighing in soon.)

Agriculture and industry should consider the impacts as well. A third straight year without water quality monitoring data could force EPA to require Idaho dischargers to meet stricter effluent standards in their permits.  A number of states have cut back on water quality monitoring during the tight budgets during the economic downturn, but Idaho’s elimination of the entire program for two years is unparalleled.

Idaho DEQ has been outspoken in the need for funding this year, and in an AP article over the weekend, Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little signaled that he understands the concern. But still no definitive word from Gov. Otter.  And, of course, any water quality line item would still need approval by the state legislature. So if you haven’t done so already, consider sending your governor and legislators a quick note. All of us in Idaho — individuals, cities and businesses alike — depend on clean water.

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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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Our friends and colleagues at Idaho Conservation League were recently successful in their efforts to get Idaho DEQ to regulate carbon emissions in an air pollution permit to be issued to a new “clean-coal gasification fertilizer plant” in Southern Idaho.  This is notable because it is the first such air quality permit in the nation. It’s obviously somewhat ironic, given the climate-skeptic and anti-regulation attitudes of many Idaho leaders, but when a $1.5 billion project comes to town, and it’s ready to go forward on carbon limits, then, well, the permit gets written.

The new permit limits carbon emissions to 58% of what might otherwise have been permitted in a comparable plant. U.S. EPA hasn’t yet issued rules on how greenhouse gases might be regulated in future permits, so this Idaho permit could be an example for power plants nationwide.

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