Potlatch says Report Finds
by Eric Barker
It appears the wastewater discharged by the Potlatch Corp. pulp and paper mill at Lewiston does not threaten the existence or recovery of salmon and steelhead runs listed under the Endangered Species Act.
A company official said Tuesday that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries division finalized a document, known as a biological opinion, indicating the mill's wastewater does not jeopardize salmon and steelhead.
"We are pleased to say that the volume of scientific information that has been collected by Potlatch, the EPA and the services and the rigorous analysis that has gone along with that during the past couple of years reaffirms our discharge does not jeopardize fish in the Snake River."
The company received a copy of the biological opinion Friday. The finalized document had not been posted on the agency's Web site Tuesday, and officials from the agency at Boise did not return phone calls seeking comment. Environmental groups involved in a court case over the permit also had not seen a final version of the biological opinion Tuesday.
The mill discharges 40 million gallons of wastewater each day into the Snake River. The water can be as warm as 92 degrees. A permit allowing the discharge expired in 1997 and the EPA, prompted by a lawsuit from environmental groups, has been engaged in long process to issue the company a new permit.
A first draft of the new permit, issued in 1999, would have required Potlatch to cool its wastewater to 68 degrees during the hot summer months when water temperatures in the Snake River often exceed levels deemed safe for salmon and steelhead. Last year a discussion draft of the NOAA fisheries biological opinion said the permit would put fish at the risk of extinction.
A revised draft of the EPA permit released last year backed off on the temperature requirements saying the company only needed to reduce temperatures to 89.6 degrees in July, 87.8 degrees in August and 86 degrees in September.
According to company spokesman Mark Benson at Lewiston, the new permit will include voluntary measures the company will undertake to reduce water temperatures. He said the company will add cool water pumped from the Clearwater River directly to the pipe carrying the heated waste water.
"That adds additional cooling to the effluent before it is discharged into the confluence," said Benson.
The company will also attempt to remove heat from the waste water at the mill and also begin a program to monitor the content of the waste water and its influence on the river.
The new opinion requires Potlatch to reduce suspended solids in the waste water and also reduce nutrients in the waste water, according to Benson.
He said the company is creating a new department at the mill specifically to deal with waste water issues. The department will include 13 employees and lead to three new jobs at the mill.
"All totaled we will spend several million dollars on these measures over the course of the five-year permit."
Mark Solomon, an environmentalist from Moscow, had not seen the final biological opinion but did see a draft of it. He called measures to reduce nutrients and suspended solids an improvement, but said he could not say if the final version is acceptable until he sees it.
Solomon, who is running as a Democrat for the Idaho Legislature in District 6, did say he still has problems with the draft permit based on the warmer water temperatures being allowed by the EPA. The warmer temperatures are being allowed partly based on new standards from Idaho allowing warm water discharges into water bodies that naturally exceed water temperature standards.
"I don't believe EPA has made the case the Snake River coming into Lewiston is at natural background conditions," he said. "Not only has it gone through various dams and reservoirs but also diversions and cities and who knows what else between Yellowstone and Lewiston."
The EPA has not yet issued a final permit to the company.
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