Idaho Rivers United to Sue Ada County Over Boise River Pollution 

click to enlarge Idaho Rivers United notified Ada County of its intention to sue after noticing stormwater from horse stables running into the Boise River. - GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
  • Idaho Rivers United notified Ada County of its intention to sue after noticing stormwater from horse stables running into the Boise River.

A member of Idaho Rivers United first noticed the problem in early 2014. After a large rain-on-snow event over the winter, water was running off from the horse stables at Les Bois Park into the river. 

"We assumed it was all permitted," said Liz Paul, Boise River coordinator at IRU. "There's a lot of stormwater that goes into the river, and that's legal, but you have to have a permit under the Clean Water Act."

According to Paul, IRU brought the problem to the county's attention 15 months ago but the county hasn't taken steps to start the permitting process. To move the process along, IRU gave the county a 60-day notice of its intent to sue for "ongoing infractions of the federal Clean Water Act."

Larry Maneely, chief of staff for the Ada County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement Dec. 3 that county officials had not yet seen a copy of the intention to sue.

"Ada County and Ada County Development Services have been working with the EPA, and will continue to work with the EPA, regarding County property at Expo Idaho," the statement said.

Paul said the notice was sent on Dec. 2.

Because Ada County owns the land beneath Expo Idaho, Hawk Stadium and Les Bois Park, it's the county's responsibility to monitor the stormwater running into the Boise River from its property—and stormwater is a major pollutant to the Boise River, according to Paul. Polluters are under the gun to reduce bacteria, sediment and phosphorus flowing into the river. With a permit in place, Paul said the Environmental Protection Agency and the public will be able to see exactly how much pollution Ada County is pushing into the river.

"It's not just pure snowmelt like what comes out of the mountains running into the river," Paul said. "At Expo Idaho, you have those huge parking lots, so you have oil, grease, metals, garbage, animal waste. All that gets washed into the Boise River and once it gets into the river, it can cause bacterial problems for swimming. It kills the bugs and fish. You can see the Boise River further downstream as it collects all these contaminants, you don't have a healthy fishery. Then they keep going into the Snake River. They don't just disappear."

A permit doesn't stop pollution into the Boise River but it does force land managers to look for ways to manage stormwater and reduce pollution. The Ada County Highway District, Boise State University, city of Boise, Garden City and the Idaho Transportation Department all operate under a permit allowing stormwater to flow into the Boise River.

"Everybody else is doing it, it's not that hard," she said. "Ada County has some excellent stormwater retention methods on site, but they also have this legacy that everyone inherited from the '50s, '60s and '70s that just dumped everything into the river."

Paul said she is confident the issue will be resolved and Ada County will start the process of getting a permit before the 60 days is up—and no one will need to go to court.

"We can all pull together to clean up the Boise River," she said.
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