Saturday, September 13, 2014

Toxic Algae Found in Reservoir Near Twin Falls

Posted By on Sat, Sep 13, 2014 at 10:48 AM

  • Idaho Department of Environmental Quality
  • Watch out for this stuff.

Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir
 seems to have found the perfect recipe for blue-green algae that produces toxins: Take one warming, slow-moving lake, add an elevated level of phosphorous and maybe some nitrogen, and let it brew.

This combination has health and environment officials warning the public to beware of the water, according to the Twin Falls Times-News.

Laboratory tests confirmed the presence of the algae, which is common in nature, but this is the first time a warning has been issued for the lake. The algae tends to hug shorelines, but few species release this sort of toxin, which has been known to kill dogs and sicken people.

It was blamed for killing several dogs along the Snake River near Burley in 2000. The toxin can cause muscle spasms, decreased movement, labored breathing, convulsions and death in animals. Symptoms have not been documented in humans.

The Department of Environmental Quality continues to test the water and says falling temperatures are helping, but still warns recreationists to keep their children and pets from splashing around and drinking water near the shore. Fish caught in the lake should be stripped of skin, fat and organs before cooking. The toxin cannot be removed by boiling water.
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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

AP: Montana Governor Orders Construction Restrictions to Save Sage Grouse

Posted By on Tue, Sep 9, 2014 at 11:42 AM

  • National Park Service
In order to save a dwindling population of sage grouse, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has ordered restrictions on future structure building—such as oil drilling—near sage grouse habitat, the Associated Press reports.

The order, handed down Sept. 9, creates bird protection zones extending three-fifths of a mile around sage grouse breeding grounds—two-fifths of a mile short of the one-mile radius around breeding grounds recommended by an advisory council in January.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit settlement with environmental groups has given the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until September 2015 to determine whether federal protections for the bird should also take effect. 

In Idaho, efforts are under way to poison raven eggs to protect sage grouse populations. Ravens are seen as a predator of sage grouse, though some environmentalists question whether that will be effective, and have criticized the effort as failing to address the root cause of declining sage grouse populations: habitat destruction. 

Sage grouse are found in 11 Western states and have lost more than half of their historic habitat to development, including agriculture, urban expansion and energy development. 
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Federal Funds Grow Idaho's Streamgaging Network

Posted By on Tue, Sep 9, 2014 at 10:12 AM

The new streamgage on the Pack River was paid for through federal funds, along with ten new streamgages around the state. - U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • The new streamgage on the Pack River was paid for through federal funds, along with ten new streamgages around the state.

Most river users are well-versed in the water flows of Idaho's rivers. The river discharge is measured in cubic feet per second (cfs), and right now for example, the Boise River is flowing at 553 cfs. Water flows are to rafters what snow reports are to skiers. But paddlers, outfitters and guides aren't the only ones that look closely at river flows. Local, state and federal officials closely track Idaho's water flows through more than 200 real-time streamgages to forecast floods and allocate water.

With the help of $141,000 from Congress, the U.S. Geological Survey is investing in 10 new streamgages throughout the state to help track crucial river flows. Congress allotted a total of $6 million for the USGS National Streamflow Information Program, which helps populate data nationwide and helps manage water at the federal, state and local levels.

A news release from the USGS Idaho Water Science Center states the importance of tracking the data, not only to save money by ensuring water is appropriately allocated to agricultural irrigation and hydroelectric production, but also in helping to save lives and protect communities against flooding.

"USGS streamgages are a critical component of our river forecast and flood warning program," said National Weather Service hydrologist Katherine Rowden in the news release. "The data provided by streamgages on the Pack River near Colburn and the St. Joe River at St. Maries will help us deliver forecasts and warnings to those areas."

Other locations for the new streamgages include one on the Snake River near Murphy and one on the Lost Little River near Howe.
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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

ICL Hosts First Boise Sustainability Forum

Posted By on Wed, Sep 3, 2014 at 4:20 PM

John Bernardo (right) spoke of Idaho Power's sustainability efforts during the forum Wednesday afternoon. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • John Bernardo (right) spoke of Idaho Power's sustainability efforts during the forum Wednesday afternoon.

Nearly 100 representatives from private businesses, conservation groups and city government got a rare chance to see some of Boise's most prominent companies give a glimpse of their sustainability practices.

The first ever Boise Sustainability Forum, put together by the Idaho Conservation League, featured a panel with John Bernardo of Idaho Power, Shelly Zimmer from Hewlett-Packard, and Idaho Center for Sustainable Agriculture President Pete Pearson. It took place on the afternoon of Sept. 3 on the top floor of the Zions Bank Building, overlooking Boise's sprawling foothills and the tops of thousands of trees.

A separate panel later in the afternoon included insight from Michael Armstrong from the city of Portland and Terry Moore of EcoNorthwest on economic development opportunities stemming from sustainability programs in both public and private entities.

During the first panel, the audience got to ask each panelist specific questions, which included topics on water sustainability in a desert area and integration of renewable energy into current systems. 

In exchange, those in attendance learned that 30 to 40 percent of grocery store produce ends up in the Ada County Landfill, and 24 percent of ink cartridges from HP are made from recycled plastic.

The big take away from the panel seemed to be that money will best drive change. In order for businesses to commit to environmentally conscious practices, they must find ways that sustainably will help their bottom line. But without taking such actions, major resource shortages could have such companies' bottom lines hurting in the future. 

"This is not kumbaya-let's-save-the-planet,' Pearson said. "This is a financial risk."
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Monday, August 18, 2014

Chasing a Mega-Load in North Idaho

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 9:33 AM

A mega-load of oil refinery equipment enters Sandpoint on its way to Great Falls, Mont. - CAMERON RASMUSSON
  • Cameron Rasmusson
  • A mega-load of oil refinery equipment enters Sandpoint on its way to Great Falls, Mont.

It was just past 2 a.m., Aug. 15, and members of environmental group Wild Idaho Rising Tide were crawling down North Idaho’s Highway 200 in a rented Kia.

Ahead was an almost-1 million-pound mega-load of refinery equipment, bound for a facility in Great Falls, Mont., that processes crude oil from the controversial tar sands in Alberta, Canada. More than 300 feet long and 20 feet wide, the shipment moved at about 15 mph. Red, yellow and white lights from the trailer and its attendant vehicles shone in a smear down the rain-slick road. Rain pelted the little sedan’s windshield. Lightning from a mid-summer storm flashed on the horizon.

WIRT community organizer Helen Yost had her eye on the clock. She wanted to test the Idaho Transportation Department’s promise to keep traffic delays under 15 minutes. It turned out to be 15 minutes—almost to the second—before the trailing cars were allowed to pass.

The mega-load chase was an impromptu affair. When the shipment first arrived in Sandpoint around 1 a.m., the idea among protesters, who had traveled from as far as Moscow, was to greet it with signs and heckling. That they did, waving cards decrying tar sands oil and several panels festooned with electric lights shaped to read “No megaloads.”

Protesters greeted the mega-load of oil refinery equipment as it crawled through Sandpoint. - CAMERON RASMUSSON
  • Cameron Rasmusson
  • Protesters greeted the mega-load of oil refinery equipment as it crawled through Sandpoint.

The shipment’s pilot vehicles were the first to enter Sandpoint after crossing the iconic, two-mile Long Bridge. Then came a retinue of Idaho State Police troopers, and finally the shipment itself, bearing an American flag fluttering in the rain. That annoyed the protest group. They see the ITD-permitted overlegal shipment as a decision based on money, not democracy or the public good.

Hauled by shipper Bigge Crane, the mega-load of oil refinery equipment weighed about 1 million pounds with trailer and support trucks. - CAMERON RASMUSSON
  • Cameron Rasmusson
  • Hauled by shipper Bigge Crane, the mega-load of oil refinery equipment weighed about 1 million pounds with trailer and support trucks.

When the shipment finally inched its way onto the Sand Creek Byway en route to Highway 200, several protesters jumped in their cars and gave chase.

A few miles northeast of Sandpoint, on the federally designated Highway 200 scenic byway, the convoy of protesters was finally waved through to pass the shipment. WIRT members drove past the load, found a place to pull over and brought out their signs for a second round of protesting as the mega-load caught up. The operation repeated itself—protest as the shipment inched past, fall in behind and wait for another opportunity to overtake the load and protest again. It was about a half-hour before WIRT members were allowed to pass a second time. Yost suspected protesters were then considered “non-standard” highway traffic, and could be delayed longer than the standard 15 minutes.

“They probably don’t like us much with all that heckling we did,” she said.

Members of environmental activist group Wild Idaho Rising Tide trailed the mega-load of oil refining equipment as it snaked along scenic Highway 200 on its way to the Montana border. - CAMERON RASMUSSON
  • Cameron Rasmusson
  • Members of environmental activist group Wild Idaho Rising Tide trailed the mega-load of oil refining equipment as it snaked along scenic Highway 200 on its way to the Montana border.

At about 2:50 a.m., the mega-load finally reached a pullout between Trestle Creek and Hope, a small town on the eastern shore of Lake Pend Oreille. There it would sit until the evening of Aug. 15. The WIRT crew considered finding a place to protest as it parked, but ended up being stopped by the driver of a pilot vehicle while the shipment completed its parking maneuver.

Yost was nodding off regularly by that time. It had been a series of late nights for her and fellow activists with no sign of respite. They had dogged the mega-load since it entered Idaho in Lewiston on Aug. 10. By Aug. 17—a week later—the shipment was nearing the end of its route in the Gem State, poised to enter Montana and ending WIRT’s pursuit, but not its opposition.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Heavy Rains Wreak Havoc in Wood River Valley

Posted By on Sun, Aug 10, 2014 at 12:06 PM

Burned area from the Beaver Creek Fire, taken last fall. - U.S. FOREST SERVICE
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • Burned area from the Beaver Creek Fire, taken last fall.

Heavy rains in late July and early August have wreaked havoc in Southern Idaho, from the killing of 1,200 Chinook salmon in the South Fork of the Salmon River—when rapid rainfall pushed sediment into the holding ponds and suffocated the fish—to washing out 600 feet of the Middle Fork Boise River Road, to turning the South Fork of the Payette into a river of gushing mud. According to the Idaho State Journal, many homes and roads in Eastern Idaho were also flooded from thunderstorms.

The Wood River Valley hasn't escaped the effects of the heavy rainfall, either. According to the Idaho Mountain Express, the rain has been especially disastrous at the area burned in Beaver Creek Fire.

Several of the 56 culverts installed by Forest Service crews last August got plugged by washouts. Ketchum rangers have decided to keep upper Warm Springs Road (13 miles past where the pavement ends) closed and installed a gate.

"Given the unstable nature of the road, we decided let's keep it closed during these thunderstorm cycles," District Ranger Kurt Nelson told the Idaho Mountain Express.

Washouts also dumped a 6- to 8-foot mound of shale on part of the road that follows Castle Creek. Nelson said the shale was used to repair other sections of the road damaged by washouts. He added that the damage has been spotty, with some drainages remaining dry and others getting hit hard.

The Ketchum Ranger Station's precipitation data shows rain has fallen every day except two from July 29 to Aug. 8. The rainfall has not been enough to bring up levels of the reservoir, but it has helped green up pastures.
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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Could the Toxic Spill at Canada's Mount Polley Mine Happen Here Next?

Posted By on Sat, Aug 9, 2014 at 11:57 AM


On Aug. 4, a pond breach at Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia spilled toxic sediment into nearby streams and creeks. According to the CBC, 10 billion liters of water and 4.5 cubic meters of metals-laden fine sand contaminated several lakes, creeks and rivers in the Cariboo region.

"That is the equivalent of sending 5,800 Olympic swimming pools worth of wastewater and potentially toxic silt into nearby waterways," the CBC reported.

The spill resulted in a temporary water ban in the region. Global News reported that experts are calling it one of the worst tailings pond breaches in the world, causing massive destruction to everything in its path. And the government has no idea how much the cost of clean-up will be yet.

The mine is located at the headwaters of the Fraser River, an important watershed for salmon. One estimate expected 72 million Sockeye salmon to return this summer.

  • Canadian Press
Though this event took place over 900 miles away from Boise, John Robison, public lands director at the Idaho Conservation League, said it's closer than it seems.

"This is just one of the reasons why ICL and others are concerned about proposed 'state of the art' mines in the headwaters of the Boise and Salmon rivers," Robison said. "Both the CuMo Mine and the Golden Meadows Mine would require similar tailings impoundments upstream of community drinking supplies or critical habitat for salmon, steelhead and bull trout."

The ICL said more than 20 percent of the city of Boise's drinking water comes from the Boise River. It said if a similar failure happened at the proposed CuMo Mine, it could flow into Grimes Creek, Mores Creek, Lucky Peak and the Boise River.

Midas Gold's Golden Meadows Project would possibly consist of three open pits in the Salmon River drainage near Yellow Pine. The watershed upstream would potentially be permanently buried under a 400-foot tailings impoundment.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Eagle Island State Park Illness Identified: Norovirus

Posted By on Wed, Jul 16, 2014 at 2:46 PM

Eagle Island State Park will remain closed for the next two weeks while the drainage is emptied and refilled. - EAGLE ISLAND STATE PARK
  • Eagle Island State Park
  • Eagle Island State Park will remain closed for the next two weeks while the drainage is emptied and refilled.

Eagle Island State Park's water was tested and deemed safe for swimming mere days before visitors started complaining on the park's Facebook page of illness. The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation saw those complaints and closed the water on July 14. 

The source of the illness has been confirmed to be norovirus, according to a press release from the Central District Health Department, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. Prior tests revealed nothing because they screen for E. coli bacteria, and there is no standard water test for norovirus.

Over 100 cases of vomiting and diarrhea were reported to the Center of Disease Control July 14 and 15. Patient samples tested positive for norovirus, the most common cause of sudden onset sickness. Symptoms begin 12 to 48 hours after exposure and last one or two days without any long-term health effects.

"The virus can spread from person-to-person through recreational water, food, and direct contact with ill people," Kimberly Link, Program Manager for Communicable Disease Control at CDHD, said in the news release. "Since human stool and vomit are the main sources of norovirus, the likely source was a sick person or party that swam in the water or became ill at the park."

The Eagle Island State Park staff is now lowering lake levels and disinfecting impacted facilities with CDHD and DEQ. The swimming area will remain closed for the next two weeks. 

CDHD strongly encourages the public to stay away from area pools, lakes and rivers if sick, and for the following three days afterward. It also recommends not swallowing recreational water or getting it in your mouth, not changing diapers on the beach, washing your hands before eating and after using the restroom, and taking your kids on regular bathroom breaks.
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Monday, July 14, 2014

No Swimming at Eagle Island State Park

Posted By on Mon, Jul 14, 2014 at 10:20 AM

Eagle Island State Park's beach will stay closed to swimming until further notice. - EAGLE ISLAND STATE PARK
  • Eagle Island State Park
  • Eagle Island State Park's beach will stay closed to swimming until further notice.

On July 9, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality tested the waters of Eagle Island State Park at multiple locations and deemed the water safe, but today, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation closed the swimming beach after reports of illness.

Jennifer Okerlund, communications director for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, said she was monitoring Facebook over the weekend when she started seeing folks post on the Eagle Island State Park Facebook page complaining of flu-like symptoms. 

"So we just took immediate action and closed the beach for swimming," Okerlund said. "Social media has gotten us closer to our customers, monitoring how they're feeling and helping us better understand our facilities."

She said more samples were taken today and sent to the DEQ for expedited analysis, but it could take a few days to see results. The water will remain closed until further notice. The water slide, picnic areas, disc golf and equestrian areas will stay open.

The DEQ tests water quality at all public swimming areas in all of Idaho's state parks. With higher temperatures, the DEQ schedules additional testing of popular swimming areas like Eagle Island State Park. 
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Monday, July 7, 2014

Massive Cleanup of Fuselages Continues on Montana River

Posted By on Mon, Jul 7, 2014 at 9:30 AM


Officials had initially predicted that the cleanup of debris from a train derailment in Montana's Clark Fork River, including three giant aircraft fuselages, would wrap up Sunday evening. Now, they say it will take at least until Tuesday.

Nineteen train cars jumped the tracks about 10 miles west of Alberton, Mont., July 3. Thirteen of the cars were carrying aircraft components, soybeans and denatured alcohol. Three of the cars with 747 fuselages plunged into the river near Fish Creek. Montana Rail Link officials insist that no alcohol or soybeans were spilled.

The cause of the derailment remains under investigation.

This morning's Missoulian reports that MRL declined to give a value for the aircraft components, which must be fished out of the water and hauled up the bank of the river using huge cables.

Meanwhile, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said there were no plans to close the Clark Fork River during the cleanup, but there have been temporary delays. For example, floaters were held up about half an hour Sunday afternoon as the fuselages and other debris were moved..

The Missoulian reports that members of the Whitewater Rescue Institute were on the river informing floaters of the incident and warning of hazards.

"You come through them, go right around the corner and boom, (the fuselages are) right there,” river guide Andrew Spayth told the Missoulian.“ We were all just saying, ‘Whoa, there’s full planes in the river, there’s cars everywhere, trees broken and bent.”

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