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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Idaho should restore funds for water monitoring

In a debate over public policy, the most hardened industrialist can agree with the most radical environmentalist on at least one point. Sound laws and regulations must be based on sound science.

It should surprise no one, therefore, that a number of business interests have lent their support to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s appeal for $350,000 to restore a water-quality monitoring program that was largely suspended two years ago. Numerous Idaho cities, including Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls, have spoken out, too.

The Beneficial Use Reconnaissance Program – more familiar as BURP – was first conducted in 1993 as a pilot program to track the health of some 96,000 miles of Idaho streams, plus the state’s beloved lakes. Every summer thereafter, DEQ has hired college students to collect samples from hundreds of surface water locations around the state.

Every summer until two years ago, that is.

That’s when budget cuts severely trimmed the program’s capacity for integrating water quality monitoring with wildlife habitat assessment to create an accurate picture of the environmental health of some of the state’s most valuable natural assets. Without such work, it would be difficult to detect whether waters were becoming fouled – or whether those still in near-pristine condition were being degraded.

By the end of the program’s first 10 years, DEQ had sampled more than 5,000 sites, enough to make the state a national leader in collecting the kind of data that makes policies defensible. Without credible data, policy decisions tend to be informed – inflamed is more like it – by ideology and emotion.

Benefits of a trustworthy approach range from preserving Idaho’s tourism trade to sustaining Idahoans’ quality of life to assuring prospective dischargers that environmental regulations will be based on credible information about water quality.

Given the stakes, $350,000 begins to look like a bargain, even in dire economic times.

When the program’s funding was suspended two years ago, DEQ Director Toni Hardesty gulped and committed her agency to managing its way through the difficulty. That it has done, but the director says a third year would be too much.

In the interest of science-based decisions, let’s hope Idaho legislators heed her warning when they convene in Boise next month.

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