Idaho

Officials Defend Clean Water Plan Conservation Groups’ Suit Seeks Faster Pace, Broader Scope

Federal and state water quality officials say they have produced a reasonable plan of action and want a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by conservation groups over polluted waterways in Idaho.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Division of Environmental Quality have pledged to produce cleanup plans for 41 of Idaho’s most polluted waterways by 1999, and a dozen additional plans every two years starting in 2000.

The EPA estimates it will take 25 years to write cleanup plans for all Idaho’s polluted and partially polluted waterways. And conservationists and attorneys who filed the original federal lawsuit say that is not good enough.

“They still don’t have a realistic schedule for cleaning up the low- and medium-priority waterways,” Idaho Conservation League spokesman Mike Medberry said.

“It takes too long to get any real water-quality standards for these streams,” said Kristen Boyles, a Seattle-based attorney with the Sierra Club Legal Defense.

The lawsuit was filed by the Idaho Sportsmen’s Coalition and the Idaho Conservation League. The groups contend federal officials are underestimating the scope of Idaho’s water pollution problems.

The EPA maintained four years ago that there were only 36 polluted waterways in Idaho. But U.S. District Judge William Dwyer disagreed, ruling that there was “evidence showing that hundreds of waters were threatened or impaired.”

Two years ago the EPA issued a list of 962 troubled stream segments in Idaho. But Dwyer ruled a year ago that not enough had been done to address the problems, so he ordered the federal agency and the state to produce a reasonable cleanup schedule.

Last month the EPA filed a “complete and reasonable schedule” for setting pollution limits, Justice Department attorneys wrote in their motion to dismiss the conservationists’ lawsuit.

Deputy Attorney General Clive Strong, the state’s lead attorney on natural resources issues, backed the federal request. In a memorandum of support, Strong said the EPA’s list of 962 affected waterways “may substantially overstate water quality problems in Idaho.”

Hundreds of stream segments are listed “even though there is no documentation that the current designated uses of these waters are impaired,” Strong wrote.

“It looks like they’re going to be very aggressive at taking streams off of that list,” Medberry said, “but they still don’t have a good way of protecting the waterways that are genuinely clean.”



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