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Report: Pollutants Increase in Snake River Aquifer

Roughly 400,000 cows in the Magic Valley produce as much waste as 12 million people. (Lee O'Dell/Adobe Stock)
Roughly 400,000 cows in the Magic Valley produce as much waste as 12 million people. (Lee O'Dell/Adobe Stock)
July 12, 2019

KETCHUM, Idaho – Water quality in and around the Snake River in southern Idaho is on the decline, according to a new report.

The Idaho Conservation League's survey of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer finds an increase in pollutants, especially nitrogen and phosphorus – in some cases exceeding state and federal water-quality standards.

Josh Johnson, central Idaho conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League, explained the Magic Valley's 417,000 cows produce waste equivalent to a city of 12 million people, and that waste isn't being treated before seeping into the aquifer or running into bodies of water.

"Which, of course, we would never let that happen if it was a human city," said Johnson. "But in this case, all that cow manure is being put on the fields, on the land, and adding a lot of this nitrogen and phosphorus to the groundwater."

The aquifer supplies drinking water to more than 300,000 Idahoans. The report says the industrialized dairy industry, which is growing rapidly in the region, is a leading source of contaminants.

Johnson said the State of Idaho needs to better monitor and regulate the amount of pollution going into the water system. He added the state will also have to tackle waste from the dairy industry, which affects water quality as well as the rest of the environment.

"We need to figure out how can we best deal with this waste and how can we reduce the impact that it's having," he said, "both from a water pollution perspective, such as what we detail in this report, but also from a climate change perspective, just from some of the methane and other gases that come out of there."

Idaho is among the top five largest dairy-producing states in the country. Johnson noted that this report shouldn't cause alarm for the public, but it indicates a growing problem that needs to be addressed.

Disclosure: Idaho Conservation League contributes to our fund for reporting on Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID