Eye On Boise

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 28, 2009, 8:32 P.M.

Lawmakers side with miners, Realtors on water quality rules

A rule favored by the mining industry to allow groundwater pollution to remain after mining activity has won the approval of both the House Environment Committee and the Senate Health & Welfare Committee, while a rule opposed by Realtors that would have stiffened septic system regulations in an effort to protect against fecal contamination of groundwater, lakes or streams was rejected by both panels, on divided votes. The septic rule is the one that prompted an ethics outcry, after Realtors lobbyist John Eaton withdrew a campaign contribution from a DEQ board member and legislative candidate who backed the rule in a board vote. You can click below to read an article on the committees' action by AP reporter Sarah Wire, and click here to read Dan Popkey's report at idahostatesman.com.

ID lawmakers side with industry on water rules
Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers have sided with industry on a pair of rules dealing with water use.

Both the House Environment Committee and the Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved a rule Wednesday to allow companies like J.R. Simplot and Monsanto Co. to mine without being forced to restore groundwater beneath their operations to its natural condition. Both committees also rejected a proposed rule that would have changed state regulations regarding septic tanks, over concerns it relied on flawed data.

Agency rules have to be approved in House and Senate committees to go into effect.

According to the new rule, mining companies could pollute groundwater below their extraction, reclamation and tailing activities with high concentrations of naturally occurring elements such as selenium. They would be required to monitor groundwater at so-called "points of compliance" close to the mining area, to make sure the pollution stayed put.

The rule doesn't require mining companies to clean contaminated groundwater, but they must keep pollution from spreading.

It stops short of a 2007 draft proposal developed by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality but never formalized. That would have required companies to clean up groundwater below their mines within eight years of ceasing activities.

Barry Burnell, Environmental Quality water quality administrator, called the measure a balance between the mining companies and environmentalists.

But the Idaho Conservation League spoke against the rule, with program director Justin Hayes saying it leaves Idaho groundwater vulnerable.

"If we can't do these things in a way to protect human health then we shouldn't be doing them," Hayes said.

The septic tank rule, which did not pass, would have required larger drain fields for new septic tanks.

Burnell told the House Environment Committee that one in seven septic tanks in Idaho is undersized and may fail. The information comes from a water flow study by the Department of Environmental Quality. However, real estate agents and citizens argued that the data was flawed.

Several real estate agents said the department's data did not identify how a tank failed, only that it did.

Idaho Association of Realtors spokesman John Eaton said there is no reliable data to prove how many septic tanks are failing because they are undersized. He said it is clear that septic tanks fail, but it is not always clear why.

He said requiring bigger septic systems would prohibit construction on many small lots; lawmakers have raised concerns that such limits could stifle development in an already weak economy.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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