Letters from the West

EPA, Simpson both like Boise's plan for cutting water pollution

Boise City Environmental Manager Steve Burgos, center, describes the layout and design of the Dixie Drain Phosphorus Removal Offset Project east of Parma to a small group of officials Tuesday July 1, 2014. Troy Smith with the Department of Environmental Quality, right, and Bill Stewart with the Environmental Protection Agency, left, look over the 50 acre site plan where water will be diverted from the Dixie Drain, an irrigation channel along the Boise River, into settling ponds where it will be treated to remove phosphorus. The process will also remove sediment before the water is returned to the same watershed system. Construction of the site is expected to begin this coming winter pending permits.
Boise City Environmental Manager Steve Burgos, center, describes the layout and design of the Dixie Drain Phosphorus Removal Offset Project east of Parma to a small group of officials Tuesday July 1, 2014. Troy Smith with the Department of Environmental Quality, right, and Bill Stewart with the Environmental Protection Agency, left, look over the 50 acre site plan where water will be diverted from the Dixie Drain, an irrigation channel along the Boise River, into settling ponds where it will be treated to remove phosphorus. The process will also remove sediment before the water is returned to the same watershed system. Construction of the site is expected to begin this coming winter pending permits. doswald@idahostatesman.com

A project that would efficiently clean up phosphorus in the Boise River got the ceremonial approval Tuesday of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and one of its frequent critics.

The Dixie Drain Phosphorus Offset Project would allow the city of Boise to meet phosphorus removal requirements in its EPA discharge permit by treating water running off through an agricultural drain instead of upgrading the city’s treatment facilities. Republican Rep. Mike Simpson and EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran both praised the offset project, which will be the first of its kind in the nation, at the Boise WaterShed Environmental Education Center.

The project still must get a conditional use permit from Canyon County. If approved, the project would begin next summer with completion expected in the spring of 2016.

With downstream cities like Nampa and Caldwell also needing to reduce phosphorus, the project could be the first of several that include public-private partnerships.

“This innovative project can help catalyze water quality improvements in the Boise River watershed, creating the opportunity for trading between municipalities and agriculture that should ultimately provide both environmental and economic benefits for all,” McLerran said.

The project is located a few miles upstream from the Boise River’s confluence with the Snake River, where a high concentration of phosphorus from agricultural uses in the area flow into the Dixie Drain.

It would divert water from the drain and remove the phosphorus by adding a chemical that causes up to 140 pounds of phosphorus to coagulate and settle on the bottom. The treated water returns to the drain and the river cleaner.

Simpson has often criticized the EPA for forcing communities to meet what he has called burdensome regulations without offering alternatives. He has supported Boise's project that has been in the works for more than four years.

“I hope this project becomes a model for future flexibility in regulation and cooperation among the federal government and those they regulate,” said Simpson.

For the City of Boise, the project not only save money and cleans up the river but also does it with a smaller carbon footprint, important to the city’s efforts to combat climate change.

“We could accomplish our permit requirement with more filtration at the plant,” said Boise Public Works Director Neal Oldemeyer. “But the Dixie Drain Project has a much better environmental return on investment and would be less expensive in the long run compared to traditional filtration treatment.”

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