Boise Taps Farmers
by Sean Ellis
Project designed to keep pollutant from river, please EPA
BOISE -- The city of Boise is turning to farmers to help the city meet stricter water pollution rules.
The city's proposed Dixie Drain project would create a wetland area that would be used to capture phosphorus runoff from farms in the area and remove it before it gets into the Boise River.
Boise would get credit toward helping it meet stricter federal rules on phosphorus discharges into the river. Farmers would get a cleaner river and be presented with a template that could help them meet, at minimal cost, any potential future federal rules governing their phosphorus discharges.
"I think it's absolutely a great idea. I think it's an eco-friendly idea and a cost-effective idea," said Dean Goodner, a longhorn breeder who sold 49 acres to the city for the project.
There's one problem, though. The Dixie Drain is 40 miles from Boise and the idea is unique, so the Environmental Protection Agency is having a hard time approving it.
Other municipalities are removing phosphorus through wetland areas, but none are doing it that far away.
Jim Werntz, EPA's Idaho operations manager, said the agency is interested in the plan and likes the concept. While the agency is trying to find a way to develop it, a lot of regulatory hurdles have to be overcome.
"This kind of arrangement hasn't been done before," Werntz said. "There are a number of pretty big regulatory challenges we're struggling with. But we like the idea."
The city's five-year pollution discharge permit, which the EPA is in the process of renewing, will include interim and final phosphorus limits. The interim limit will be met through upgrades at Boise's wastewater treatment plant. Werntz said the final limits will be difficult to meet without reducing discharges from nonpoint sources such as agriculture.
That's where the Dixie Drain plan comes in, said Paul Woods, manager of the Boise Pubic Works Department's environmental division. While the project may or may not be cheaper than installing costly upgrades at the city's wastewater treatment plant, the department thinks this has a better environmental outcome for the river.
The Dixie Drain was dug by the Bureau of Reclamation to drain farmland that had become salted out and make it productive again. It is located west of Boise near Parma, close to where the Boise River flows into the Snake River.
Water from farming in the area flows into the drain and back into the Boise River. Agriculture accounts for the largest amount of phosphorus and sediment in the river. The city's proposal would use a chemical such as alum to turn phosphorus into a solid so it can be removed.
If it's successful, farmers across the nation could use the process as a template to meet any future federal rules governing phosphorus discharges from ag ground, Goodner said.
Werntz said nutrient and sediment pollution in waterways is a huge issue around the nation and because agriculture is a big part of the reason, "agriculture's got to be part of the solution."
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, calls the proposal "a win for the environment, a win for taxpayers and a win for the utilization of cooperation and innovation in regulatory affairs."
Simpson's deputy chief of staff, John Revier, said the congressman would like to see EPA become more flexible in how it allows people, especially farmers and ranchers, to meet environmental standards.
"This is a case of where the EPA is actually demonstrating some flexibility," he said. "We've made a step in the right direction."
Monsanto Mine to Pay $1.4m Penalty for Idaho Waterways Phosphate Pollution by Dorothy Kosich, Mineweb, 4/21/11
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs