U.S. Water News Online
BOISE, Idaho -- The Environmental Protection Agency has
approved a water quality standard for the South Fork Coeur d'Alene
River that allows twice as much zinc and 12 times as much lead as the
The agency announced it would allow Idaho to use the state
standard -- based on local conditions in the river basin -- rather
than the national standard.
``This is a common-sense approach to protecting water quality,''
said Gov. Dirk Kempthorne. ``I am pleased that the federal government
has recognized the need for this type of flexibility to assure that
local economic and environmental interests are taken into
Chris Mebane, water quality standards manager for the Idaho
Department of Environmental Quality, said the department has studied
the issue for eight years.
``We have been doing studies with the native fish and aquatic
insects in the South Fork Coeur d'Alene and the results of the
studies show that for the community the criteria would be
sufficiently protective,'' Mebane said.
The national standard is stringent to make sure it applies to all
the different types of organisms that live in streams, rivers and
lakes throughout the country, he said.
His department looked at animals including mayflies, stoneflies
and trout in the unpolluted headwaters of the river and in similar
rivers to see if the creatures could withstand higher levels of zinc
The new standards will still require major cleanup efforts to
reduce the pollution in the river, he said.
``By the time the river gets down to Smelterville or Kellogg, the
concentrations of zinc in the water are probably eight to 10 times
higher than the new criteria. It's still a long way to go, but
instead of shooting for something that's unattainable, it brings a
cleanup goal closer to something they can do,'' Mebane said.
The new standards will also be used to set future discharge limits
for the mines discharging wastewater to the South Fork Coeur d'Alene
More than 100 years of silver mining in northern Idaho's Silver
Valley has flowed from South Fork Coeur d'Alene River into Lake Coeur
d'Alene, then to the headwaters of the Spokane River, which flows
into Washington state and eventually to the Columbia River.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies are
working to clean up the pollution.
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