Letters from the West

Ada and Canyon counties once again ranked high for nitrate pollution

Ada and Canyon counties are among the 34 areas in Idaho identified as areas with elevated levels of nitrate in ground water.

This is not new but it’s the latest ranking prepared by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. The other nine so-called Nitrate Priority Areas areas, include Marsh Creek in Cassia County, Weiser, Lindsay Creek, Fort Hall, Blackfoot, Grand View, Bruneau, NE Star, and Black Cliffs.

The 2014 Nitrate Priority Area Delineation and Ranking Process compiled data from more than 10,000 wells statewide. Of these, over 4,000 are located within the boundaries of the priority areas. Approximately 400,000 people are estimated to live within these areas.

Nitrate is a chemical form of nitrogen found in soil and water. In elevated levels, found throughout agricultural areas across the nation, nitrates can cause methemoglobinemia or blue baby syndrome, a condition found especially in infants under six months.

Infants don’t have strong enough stomach acid to reduce the amount of bacteria that transforms the nitrate into a form that is easily dissolved in the bloodstream.

Nitrate priority areas are have 25% of the sampled wells with nitrate levels of five milligrams per liter or greater in the water. The drinking water standard is 10 milligrams per liter.

DEQ conducted the study in conjunction with the Idaho Ground Water Monitoring Technical Committee, a panel of scientists from state and federal agencies, universities, and health districts.