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Ecology and salmon related articles

Fish Producers Assigned Pollutant Limits

by Jennifer Sandmann
Seattle Times - October 26, 2002

TWIN FALLS -- Further reductions in river pollutants generated by fish farms are coming.

Faced with a federal deadline, the aquaculture industry on the mid-Snake River from Milner to Glenns Ferry crafted a proposal that allots pollutant limits to the 68 fish farms on the reach of river.

The industry as a whole may discharge up to 970.2 pounds of phosphorus a day into the mid-Snake. That limit must be distributed equitably among all 68 farms. The plan up for public review attempts to do that. How much fish a hatchery produces and how much water it uses formulates its limit.

Phosphorus is a nutrient that at excessive levels can feed nuisance-level plant growth that can be harmful to fish and hinder boaters, water skiers and rescue teams. To improve water quality on the mid-Snake, all industries and municipalities discharging wastewater into the river must reduce phosphorus levels. In the aquaculture industry, phosphorus is a component of fish manure.

Mid-Snake River fish producers must reduce by 40 percent the amount of phosphorus their farms discharge into the river.

"We're probably about 20 percent there," said Balthasar "Sonny" Buhidar, regional water quality manager for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality in Twin Falls.

In 1997, the 13 largest fish farms began operating under reduced phosphorus permit limits, said Carla Fromm, environmental scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency.

But the industry was faced with a target without having a clear starting line.

There was little information about phosphorus concentrations in the wastewater and how much wastewater overall was returning to the river, Fromm said. Faced with regulations to reduce phosphorus without having baseline data was a bone of contention in the industry. While the largest producers began making their reductions, more time was given to monitor and gather data before the rest of the farms were to be regulated.

All hatcheries must meet reduced phosphorus levels by 2004 and maintain those levels through 2010, Fromm said.

Scientist Randy MacMillan, vice president of research and environmental affairs for Clear Springs Foods Inc. in Buhl., is chairman of the aquaculture committee that drafted the industry's phosphorus load distribution proposal. MacMillan is a member of the DEQ's appointed citizen board of directors. The proposal doesn't go before the DEQ board for approval.

The EPA ultimately must approve phosphorus limits as part of a hatchery's environmental regulatory permit, Fromm said. The EPA relies on the DEQ's staff review of the plan, she said.

Clear Springs, which produces 20 million to 22 million pounds of rainbow trout a year, has spent upwards of $2 million reducing phosphorus pollutants by 50 percent since it began reduction efforts 1990, MacMillan said.

The company added a more efficient fish feed program to reduce phosphorus produced by the fish and made changes to its waste handling practices, MacMillan. Slack water areas between raceways capture manure churned to the water's surface by the fish. The manure is transferred to a settling pond and then used by farmers for soil fertilizer.

Clear Springs has reduced phosphorus loads as much as possible with the available technology that is economically viable, MacMillan said.

Jennifer Sandmann
Fish Producers Assigned Pollutant Limits
Seattle Times, October 26, 2002

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