Following our winter sequence of Fire and Ice, the month of March is dedicated to the theme From Snow to Flow on Building a Greener Idaho.

The Clean Water Act was made into law in 1972 to address growing concerns about water quality in the United States. At a time when rivers were literally starting on fire (Cuyahoga River, 1969), public sentiment had shifted away from allowing surface water to be used as an industrial drain system enabling powerful Federal legislation to be enacted to clean up our waterways. It was obvious that industrial pollutants were a problem, and in response, the Clean Water act targets point source pollution. The EPA defines point source pollution as any single identifiable source of pollution from which pollutants are discharged, such as a pipe, ditch, ship or factory smokestack – typically from a wastewater treatment plant and industrial sites.

The Clean Water Act was highly successful at reducing pollution in our waterways, but once the point source pollutants were mitigated, the harmful impacts of nonpoint source pollution became more apparent. The EPA defines nonpoint source pollution as pollution caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters.

Typically, nonpoint source pollution is harder to identify and treat effectively than point source pollution, so our laws and policies have placed the onous for clean water pollution prevention on municipal wastewater plants, and industries that introduce pollutants to waterways through identifiable, direct pathways. As the low hanging fruit in point source pollution have been harvested, we are left with ever more costly ways to treat this type of pollution. At the same time, we remain relatively hands off on addressing the many significant pollutants contaminating our waters from diffuse, nonpoint sources.

In spite of the success of the Clean Water Act, it is clear that there are still issues to address. Cities in Southern Idaho began facing the economic realities of trying to achieve ever more stringent phosphorous discharge standards for their wastewater plants in the late 2000’s. Phosphorous making its way into the Boise and Snake River drainages ultimately ends up in the reservoirs of the Hell’s Canyon Complex, causing algae blooms, low oxygen content, and fish mortality. This is not a great situation for the ecosystem, or for the recreationalists who enjoy the reservoirs and phosphorous discharge restrictions from point sources were tightened to address the problem. While this was consistent with the Clean Water Act status quo, the tighter phosphorous controls at our municipal wastewater plants are proving to be a costly en devour. Worse, no matter how tightly we control the discharge from our tailpipes, the phosphorous keeps coming – from nonpoint sources.

The City of Boise recognized that the situation was akin to plugging holes in a dike while ever more leaks were springing up just outside of their reach. So, they looked outside of their reach for a better solution. The City identified that an agricultural return drain downstream on the Boise River known as the Dixie Drain was a prime phosphorous reduction opportunity. During the summer irrigation season, the Dixie Drain feeds high levels of phosphorous into the Boise River from nonpoint sources. The City correctly inferred that they could keep more phosphorous out of the river with less expense if they treated the Dixie Drain water as opposed to retrofitting their wastewater plants to extract the last vestiges of phosphorous from their effluent.

The Dixie Drain phosphorous removal project was a great idea, but novel. The Clean Water Act had no provisions for water quality trading of this nature, even if the net outcome was less pollution. In 2009, the City of Boise approached the EPA with the idea. Not surprisingly, a precedent setting project like the Dixie Drain was met with some resistance. The EPA and Idaho DEQ wanted to be very cautious with any legal precedents. The conservation community wanted assurances that the project would indeed result in less pollution, and less expense for the City. Several years of negotiations ensued, but the City knew that they were on to something and doggedly pursued approval for the project. Fast forward to 2016, and the City of Boise became the first municipality in the U.S. to treat water outside of their jurisdiction for the sake of meeting their wastewater treatment obligations under the Clean Water Act and National Pollution Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

And it’s working. While still in a beta testing phase, the Dixie Drain treatments are removing over 150 lbs of phosphorous from the water per day during the summer months, and doing so at a discount compared to treating at the wastewater plant. Today, cities from across the country are calling the Boise Public Works Department to inquire, “How did you pull that off?” and, “Can this work in our community?”

Join our conversation with Jim Werntz, Director, Idaho Operations at the U.S. EPA, and Steve Burgos, City of Boise Public Works Director as they provide a first hand account of this precedent setting project from inception to implementation. And feel free to take a little pride in this story of how we build a greener Idaho. Cities and Clean Water Act stake holders across the country took note of the Dixie Drain project, and the project has set the stage for the development of a third party water quality trading market in Southern Idaho.

It’s not every day that the mold breaks for the better, but thanks to some key champions in the Gem State, that’s exactly what happened for water quality in America with the Dixie Drain project.

Jim Werntz, EPA Idaho Operations Director

Steve Burgos, City of Boise Public Works Director

Tune into the show weekly at 3pm on Radio Boise at 89.9 FM or 93.5 FM in the Treasure Valley. Or stream us online at http://www.radioboise.org. You can listen to a podcast of our interview using the player below.

Got an idea for a show? We’d love to hear about it! Contact us at buildingagreeneridaho@gmail.com



Image result for Joe Palumbo Ice Dam Guys

Joe Palumbo from the Ice Dam Guys joined me on the show to discuss the IceDamApocolypse that has been wreaking havoc this winter in the Treasure Valley and beyond. Energy efficiency and regular maintenance are the name of the game.

Too Close to Home

We exit January with our final Fire theme episode – Too Close to Home. My guest is Martha Brabec, Foothills Restoration Specialist with the City of Boise. Martha joined the City in this newly formed position soon after this summer’s Table Rock fire. Boise residents who live near the Table Rock burn zone know well that this event was too close to home and is certainly not the first time that wildfires have threatened Treasure Valley homes. But, Boise is situated in the middle of the giant sagebrush sea that covers a large portion of the western United States and fire is now a fixture of this landscape. The introduction of cheat grass and changing weather patterns have shifted the fire regime immensely. We now find ourselves increasingly managing for fire prevention and restoring fire damaged sagebrush lands.

Martha Brabec

Martha Brabec

Martha provides our listeners with an overview of life in the modern sagebrush sea, and what the City of Boise is doing to preserve and manage the foothills lands that our community has invested in.

Use the player below to listen to our conversation.

Join us for the Ice theme in February by tuning in Tuesdays at 3pm on Radio Boise at 89.9 FM or 93.5 FM in the Treasure Valley. Or stream us online at http://www.radioboise.org for your weekly dose of Building a Greener Idaho.

Got an idea for a show? We’d love to hear about it! Contact us at buildingagreeneridaho@gmail.com

Motivational Fire

My guest this week is best selling author Colin Beavan. Colin and I begin to wind down the Fire portion of our Fire and Ice theme on BAGI. We discuss his books No Impact Man and How to be Alive, A Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World and discover that the combined themes of these works is a good stoke for the Building a Greener Idaho listener’s fire. No Impact Man chronicles Colin’s experience aspiring to living a year of zero environmental impact life style in New York City. How to Be Alive provides practical advise for creating change in your life and moving towards your life of highest service.

Author Colin Beavan

Author Colin Beavan

Listen to our conversation on the player below.

Join us for the final Fire episode of our series on Fire & Ice Tuesday January 31st at 3pm on Radio Boise at 89.9 FM or 93.5 FM in the Treasure Valley. Or stream us online at http://www.radioboise.org

Got an idea for a show? We’d love to hear about it! Contact us at buildingagreeneridaho@gmail.com

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