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Idaho taking over water pollution permitting from feds

Despite Idaho’s vaunted distaste for the federal government, it’s one of just four states where getting a permit for dumping pollutants into waterways requires dealing with the federal Environmental Protection Agency instead of the state. That’s changing under a law that quietly cleared the Idaho Legislature without a single opposing vote this year. But the change means Idaho will have to add an estimated 25 employees over the next eight years at the state Department of Environmental Quality – in a GOP-dominated state where lawmakers also spend lots of time about talking about shrinking government.

“I have to suck it up and say yes, it’s worth it,” said former Idaho Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, who pushed persistently for the move during his three terms in the Senate; he’s also a former Post Falls mayor and city administrator. “I think it really does make more sense than letting the feds do it for us. It’s a better way to control our own destiny.” The only other states that currently have the EPA running their wastewater permitting programs are Massachusetts, New Mexico and New Hampshire; you can read my full Sunday story here at spokesman.com.

North Idaho cutthroat need help from cool heads

FISHING —  Warmer water temperatures being recorded in North Idaho streams and rivers are creating unhealthy conditions for trout, especially the region's westslope cutthroats, Idaho environmental officials said.

A recent analysis by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality shows that nearly 900 miles of streams in Kootenai and Shoshone counties are reaching temperatures up to 80 degrees in warmer months, well above the optimal temperature of 55 degrees or colder for trout species that attract legions of fly fishers.

The biggest factor to the warming trend is excessive sun exposure and lack of tree cover that provides shade and protection, Kajsa Stromberg, DEQ spokeswoman, told the Coeur d'Alene Press in a story published Tuesday.

In addition, Forest Service and Idaho Fish and Game studies over the years have documented major losses of deep holes and stream structure trout would seek to survive such conditions. Historic mining, logging and road-building practices contributed to the problems.

The region most affected by the warmer waters is the North Fork Coeur d'Alene River Sub basin, a region with a national reputation for producing great cutthroat trout fishing.

The warmer temperatures have a variety of negative impacts on trout, from making the fish lethargic to heightened risk and exposure to potentially threatening disease.

THE GOOD NEWS is that the DEQ is proposing a plan to lower water temperatures and improve access to colder, deeper waters to help reverse the warming trend.

  • The strategy includes building more rock structures and logs to narrow and deepen channels and improving access fish have to cold-water channels and natural springs. The plan, now open for public review and comment, would also protect more of the region's shoreline trees from timber harvest managed by the U.S. Forest Service and provide incentives to private landowners.

The agency is taking written comments on the proposal until April 10, followed by a public hearing. The agency will also submit its draft plan to the Environmental Protection Agency for review.

THE BAD NEWS is that the online reaction to the CdA Press story on this issue was dominated by comments suggesting the DEQ's proposal is an example of government waste or a "liberal" reaction to climate change. 

God help us if such ignorance is allowed to guide our stewardship of natural resources.

Statewide Stage 1 air quality alert issued…

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has issued a statewide Stage 1 air quality alert, banning open burning all through the state. It's in effect through the weekend; conditions will be re-evaluated Monday morning on a county-by-county basis. The ban includes campfires, recreational, warming, weed control, cooking, and residential fires. “Air quality is generally in the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups to Unhealthy categories throughout the central and southern parts of the state,” said DEQ Smoke Management Program Coordinator Mary Anderson. "Air quality in the northern Idaho Panhandle is forecasted to be in the good to moderate range; however, stagnant conditions will likely cause smoke from open burning to remain at ground level." Click below for the full alert from DEQ.

Curt Fransen named new DEQ director

Curt Fransen, deputy director of the Idaho DEQ since 2007, has been named the agency's director by Gov. Butch Otter. Current Director Toni Hardesty is leaving this week to become the Idaho director of the Nature Conservancy; Otter praised Hardesty as he named Fransen to the post.

“One of the best measures of Toni’s effectiveness as director is the quality of the team she’s built at DEQ, and Curt is ‘Exhibit A,’ " the governor said in a statement.  "Along with Director Hardesty, he’s helped establish a high level of respect for the agency with industry, the environmental community and federal regulators.”

Fransen is an attorney who started with the state as a deputy attorney general in 1983, and moved to Coeur d’Alene in 1997 to represent a number of state agencies on mining cleanup and other North Idaho natural resources issues; he became DEQ’s deputy director in 2007. Fransen said, “I appreciate the support of Gov. Otter and look forward to maintaining and advancing the high standards established at the Department of Environmental Quality by Director Toni Hardesty.” Click below for Otter's full announcement.

DEQ cuts amount to quarter of its budget…

Idaho's Department of Environmental Quality has lost a quarter of its budget  to cuts since the recession began, AP reporter John Miller reports, and it's part of a national trend that's seeing conservation programs and environmental regulations pared back significantly as states grapple with budget deficits. Miller reports that because environmental programs are just a sliver of most state budgets, the cuts often go without much public notice, while more attention is focused on larger reductions in Medicaid, public education or prisons. Click below for his full report.

IDEQ, Tribe Offers Lake Plan Program

Coeur d'Alene Lake Management Plan is sponsoring a two-hour program to discuss the current conditions of Lake Coeur d'Alene from a scientific perspective this afternoon. The program will focus on important topics like metal pollutants (lead, zinc, cadmium), oxygen, phosphorus (algae), and milfoil. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the Coeur d'Alene Tribe have been jointly implementing the management plan since July 2009. Now, IDEQ coordinator Glen Rothrock and tribal counterpart, Rebecca Stevens, have launched an education program as part of the lake management plan. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. today in the Coeur d'Alene Library Community Room, 702 Front Ave. There is no charge to attend. You can read more information about the plan and the meeting here.

  • Also: Click IDEQ/tribal ad below 3rd post in main Hucks Online thread for more info.