Aug 10, 2020

Idaho Conservation League Releases 2020 Groundwater Report

The Idaho Conservation League released its second groundwater report on the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer

water quality

The Idaho Conservation League released its second groundwater report on its Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

The aquifer supplies drinking water for more than 300,000 Idahoans, according to the Public News Service. The new report raises concerns about contamination, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, which come from dairy operations and fertilizer use on farms.

“Groundwater quality in the Magic Valley is being degraded as a result of contamination, primarily by the over application of fertilizers and animal waste across the Snake River Plain,” according to the report. “The nitrogen and phosphorus input from fertilizer, animal waste, and other sources far exceeds what typical crops can uptake, with the remainder susceptible to leaching into the groundwater.”

An estimated 425,000 dairy cows in the Magic Valley produce as much manure as a city of 12 million people, if that city had no wastewater treatment plants, added the report.

For the third straight year, elevated total phosphorus concentrations were measured at a number of springs, showing worsening water quality as identified in the 2019 report. The 2019 report was also the first groundwater quality report for the Magic Valley. Another key finding was that the highest and most harmful nitrate concentrations are typically found in Twin Falls, Cassia, and Minidoka counties. 

The motivation for the initial groundwater report in 2019 was the evidence that water quality in the aquifer was declining. 

"Consolidating the responsibility of groundwater protection under a single agency would be helpful, we think, because right now in Idaho, different agencies have different pieces of the puzzle, but there's sometimes lacking a coherent, overarching strategy," said Josh Johnson, a conservation associate with the group. 

According to Johnson, the Idaho Conservation League has sent its report to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, and the departments of Agriculture and Water Resources.

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