EPA Taking a Second Lookby Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, August 15(?), 2002
Potlatch Corp. discharges into river re-evaluated
The U.S. Environmental Protection Administration is taking a new look at the water Potlatch Corp.'s Lewiston plant discharges into the Snake River.
EPA's second look is because of draft temperature standards recently proposed by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
State environmental officials want to introduce a new concept to the water temperature standards. If adopted, it would allow companies like Potlatch to discharge water into rivers such as the Snake as long as the receiving water is already above standards because of natural conditions.
If that is the case, discharge would be allowed as long as it doesn't warm the river more than .3 degrees Celsius.
"We attempt to try to account for natural background conditions we have in our rivers and streams when we have to make a determination if a stream is in compliance with our water quality standards," said Jim Bellaty, regional director of the Department of Environmental Quality at Lewiston.
"This allows us to take a look at what are the natural conditions of that stream in relation to what our temperature standard is."
So if a stream has a water temperature standard of 68 degrees to protect spawning salmon and steelhead, but the state agency determines the stream naturally exceeds the standard during hot spells, discharge could continue.
For almost two years, the EPA has been writing a new permit that allows Potlatch to continue to release some 40 million gallons of wastewater into the Snake River each day.
A draft of that permit sets strict temperature standards that may require the company to cool its wastewater to 68 degrees before it could be released into the river during the hot summer months. The water Potlatch releases now can be up to 92 degrees.
Company officials have said that could cost as much as $25 million to construct and more to run.
The difficult part of the state's proposed standards, according to Bellaty, is determining when high water temperatures are caused by natural conditions versus human activity.
"That would not necessarily be an easy thing to do, but it can be done," he said. "It just takes a lot of time and you have to have a lot of data and information to work with."
The new state standards also have to be approved by EPA officials.
Christine Koch of Seattle, the EPA official writing the permit for Potlatch Corp.'s wastewater permit, is trying to figure out how the new standard, if adopted, would affect the permit.
"We are looking at whether that would make a difference in Potlatch's effluent temperatures or not," she said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service continue to review the draft permit to see if it complies with the Endangered Species Act.
Those two agencies have been in that process for more than a year. Koch said they may complete a draft of their work before the end of the year.
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