Wednesday, November 17, 2010

County wants water-quality funding

Lack of money resulting in data gap

Express Staff Writer

The Big Wood River, the area’s primary waterway, meanders through Hailey. Photo by Mountain Express

Blaine County and other local municipalities are asking Gov. Butch Otter for more funding—but not for themselves.

The county, along with the nonprofit Idaho Conservation League and the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey, requested in a letter dated Nov. 1 that Otter restore funding for a statewide water quality monitoring program that has seen its budget zeroed out for fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

"There's a lot of concern in this valley about water quality," County Commissioner Larry Schoen said in an intrview. "The board's letter to the governor reflects the values of this community."

The Beneficial Use Reconnaissance Program is the victim of state budget holdbacks. Ordinarily, program crews collect data such as water temperature and wildlife health in 300 of Idaho's streams. The data are compiled into biannual reports submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in compliance with the Clean Water Act.

If the reports show that water quality standards are not being met, the state then acts to reduce the impact of pollutants on Idaho's waterways.

The slashed funding has resulted in a two-year gap in data, a gap that Idaho Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Jess Byrne called "manageable."

"We felt like, with the budget situation, we didn't have a lot of choice," Byrne said.

The department is requesting about $348,000 in state general funds for fiscal year 2012, an amount that would restore full program funding. Department spokesman Barry Burnell said that without that funding, the data gap would become a larger problem.

"Certainly there's a need and a requirement to submit to the EPA our assessment of the state's waters," Burnell said.

Without that assessment, he said, the agency might restrict funding for other programs such as wastewater treatment.

Idaho Conservation League spokeswoman Brett Stevenson said the funding request is equivalent to 30 cents per Idahoan per year, a cost she sees as well worth the benefits.

"It's a lot cheaper to monitor it than to try to clean up polluted water," she said.

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