Idaho Water Treatment Plants are Down the Drain 

76% of wastewater treatment plants have earned failing grades

click to enlarge DEVON BURLEIGH
  • Devon Burleigh
According to an annual report done by the Idaho Conservation League, 87 municipal wastewater treatment plants—76%—have had one or more discharge violations, according to the Idaho Conservation League.

“Each facility violated different pollutants, had different levels of exceedance, had different timings; some exceeded the permit every month and some, every three months,” said Austin Walkins, Senior Conservation Associate at Idaho Conservation League.

The violations come from plants discharging amounts of pollutants, bacteria or toxins into rivers. The permits are issued by the EPA and are required by the Clean Water Act.

“We only focused on if the facilities were releasing pollution into a waterbody above a level that is safe,” said Walkins.

The report looked at treatment plants that had pollutant permits and if those plants exceeded their limit. The main pollutants the report looked at were E. Coli, ammonia, pH, phosphorous, chlorine, sediment, and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD).

Over a three-year period, between January 2016 and December 2018, 114 wastewater treatment plants were reviewed and added into the report, accruing a total of 1,732 discharge violations. These violations have a detrimental impact on aquatic life, livestock, animal and human health. The worst performing facilities are in Inkom, Hagerman and Driggs. Inkom accounted for 116 (9%) of the violations in all of Idaho.

The Boise facility on Lander Street received a passing grade, however the facility in West Boise had two violations with E. coli discharge.

The facilities that failed to meet the safety requirements are subject to penalty under the Clean Water Act. The penalties range from fines to compliance schedules, with some facilities receiving both.

“One good thing is that we are seeing is that the top worst 15 performing facilities are all taking action to fix whatever issue they were struggling [with]. They all reached out to the EPA, they want to get into compliance. These things take time though; we won’t see it going from nearly 80% to none in one year. But, we are seeing the facilities take steps,” said Walkins.

The Idaho Conservation League report states that Inkom is requesting to convert its facility into one that discharges treated water onto crops instead of into waterways. Driggs has a formal Consent Agreement to modify its actions within the next two years.

Out of the 27 facilities that have no discharge violations, 18 of them had a failing grade in the previous report. This shows that certain facilities are taking action to release cleaner water.

“Right now, this report doesn’t look good for Idaho with so many facilities struggling to comply, but at the same time we are seeing people take action and we want to encourage that. If you live in a city where there is a struggle with compliance, reach out to your mayor or city council to see what needs to be done,” said Watkins. “Let’s work together to make sure we are protecting Idaho’s rivers and lakes.”

The full report, which lists the treatment plants that have passed and failed, along with the reasons of failure, can be found on the Idaho Conservation League website.

“Don’t take clean water for granted. These sewage treatment plants are in every community. We all have ownership. Find out how your facility is doing and if it is struggling, figure out what needs to be done,” Walkins said.

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