Wednesday, May 13, 2009

State to cut water quality testing

Monitoring along Idaho’s rivers and streams impacted by revenue woes

Express Staff Writer

Water quality monitoring at the two sites testing stations on the Big Wood River and Silver Creek shown on this map will not take place beginning Oct. 1 as part of a cost-saving decision by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to stop testing at 47 sites statewide. Express graphic by Coly McCauley

Due to budget cutbacks, a water quality monitoring program along Idaho's rivers and streams will end Oct. 1.

The program is run by the state Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Geological Survey. The monitoring will cease at all of the program's 47 sites, including two testing stations on the Big Wood River and Silver Creek.

The sites, which have been in place throughout Idaho since the late 1980s, track trends in sediment loads, nutrient levels and fish numbers.

One of the two local sites is near Stanton Crossing, where U.S. Highway 20 crosses the Big Wood River, and the other is at the Silver Creek sportsman access north of the highway near Picabo.

The two-decades-old water quality program joins a long list of other state programs that have been cut due to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's requirement that state agencies find cost-cutting measures in the face of declining state revenues.

The monitoring sites were selected from a longer list of several hundred USGS sites across Idaho where the agency still tracks streamflow levels remotely on a daily basis. That program, which includes the Stanton Crossing and Silver Creek sites as well as others in Hailey and along the Little Wood River near Carey, will continue.

Irrigators and recreational water users such as rafters and anglers will continue to have access to water flow data, said Greg Clark, associate director for the USGS water program in Idaho.

"None of that is going to be discontinued," he said.

Repeated calls to the DEQ for comment were not returned by press time.

Clark said the water quality monitoring program costs the DEQ and USGS a combined $250,000 each year. He said the monitoring has been conducted at the 47 sites on a rotating basis that saw each of the sites visited every two to three years by USGS staff. During those visits, researchers took water and biological samples to analyze as part of the examination of longterm trends.

He said various state and federal agencies have used the publicly accessible information.

For now, the monitoring program has only been cut for the 2010 fiscal year, which runs from October through September. If money begins to flow into state coffers again, it could be reinstated, Clark said.

"We're hoping it's just for the 2010 fiscal year," he said.

Clark said the USGS can't take on the funding of the program on its own, but relies on a 50-50 match with the state of Idaho.

Jason Kauffman:

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