Clean water victories help the Boise River

Nutrient pollution on the Boise River causes algae blooms like the one pictured above.

There will be less slimy algae and healthier fish in the Boise River in years ahead thanks to Idaho Rivers United.  It will be more inviting to take a dip and easier to launch a drift boat as well. 

Years of diligent research and intense discussions resulted in significant clean water victories for IRU in 2015.  We battled with polluters over limiting discharge of phosphorus-contaminated water to the river, and succeeded at convincing regulators to establish stringent limits year round.

Phosphorus pollution can cause algae to grow into thick mats making wading, swimming and fishing unpleasant or impossible. Algae also removes oxygen from the water, stressing and sometimes killing fish. The Boise River is polluted with phosphorus from municipal waste water treatment plants, stormwater systems and unregulated sources like agriculture.

New TMDLs for the Boise River are a step in the right direction.

Troy Smith of Idaho Department of Environmental Quality speaking on Oct. 28, 2014 at the Garden City Library. 

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality held more than 100 meetings over three and a half years, many that I attended, to develop Clean Water Act pollution limits for phosphorus. The resulting total daily maximum load (TMDL) limits dictate phosphorous reductions of 42 percent for stormwater, 82 percent for winter discharges from waste water treatment plants and 95 percent for summer discharges. This was a hard-won victory for Idaho Rivers United and the Boise River, and the regulations can only be enforced if polluters obtain required Clean Water Act permits. This is why IRU has taken legal action to encourage Ada County to obtain a permit to discharge stormwater from Expo Idaho into the Boise River.

IRU also succeeded in 2015 at getting more stringent limits established for the discharge of river-smothering sediment into Boise River tributaries including Mason Creek and Indian Creek. The new TMDL for sediment and bacteria was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in September. Unregulated agriculture accounts for a high percentage of sediment and bacterial pollution of the tributaries and the lower Boise River. Adoption of this new limit sets clear reduction targets and encourages cooperative action to adopt best management practicesexactly what's recommended in the new Boise River Enhancement Plan, which was completed in October by IRU and our partners in the Boise River Enhancement Network.

The full impact of IRU's 2015 clean water victories won't be visible for years, but boaters will have a new access ramp this spring. IRU helped secure access to the Boise River at Willow Lane, and Boise City Parks and Recreation will build it this winter. IRU is also continuing to work with the Boise Valley Fly Fishers to reestablish trailered boat access at Westmoreland Park in Garden City.

(Lead photo by Jason Abbot)