AUGUST 5, 2010

EPA requires permit for nutrient enrichment at Dworshak

By Alannah Allbrett     

   Since 2007, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, has been adding nitrogen to Dworshak Reservoir in a pilot project designed to add nutrients to the water. The experimental project is known as “nutrient enrichment” for the micro-organisms at the bottom of the food chain. The end result of the fertilization project is to increase productivity and improve the health and size of Kokanee Salmon.

   The project has been debated, but recently met with the threat of a lawsuit. Ron Hanes of Orofino, represented by the law firm of Bricklin and Newman (Spokane), filed a 60-day Notice of Intent to sue the agencies, naming nitrogen as a pollutant.

   The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now requiring the corps to seek a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit (NPDES) if they plan to continue their intended five year project.

   Rick Eichstaedt, counsel for Hanes said, “They realize they are going to have to comply with the Clean Water Act. It wasn’t an ambiguous requirement. If you are dumping chemicals or pollutants into a water body, you have to have a permit,” said Eichstaedt.

   Dworshak visitors have reported blue-green algae appearing more frequently at the reservoir and have attributed rashes to swimming at Dworshak. Likewise, some people believe disease outbreaks in the steelhead population at the National Fish Hatchery are related to increased nitrogen at the reservoir.

   By contrast, agency officials believe the project has helped reduce the blue-green algae blooms which may be toxic. They feel an interruption in the program will actually increase algae growth.

   Joe Du Pont, Regional Fish Manager for the department at Lewiston said, “Unfortunately we are going to have to decide based on what [data] we have collected to date.”

   Bruce Henrickson, Public Affairs Specialist for the corps stated, “The Walla Walla District has periodically sought clarification from the EPA about the need for an NPDES permit ever since we applied for the permit in 2007.” “Recently,” he went on to say, “when the District received a Notice of Intent to sue, we again sought clarification from the EPA about the need for a permit, but now in the context of a possible legal action. EPA then gave us the requested clarification this month (after the June 29, public meeting in Orofino), and that EPA clarification was that the project does indeed require a permit at this time.”