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Report Finds Contaminant Concern in Magic Valley Ground Water – Again

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Thursday, September 30, 2021   

TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- An annual report finds poor groundwater quality continues to be an issue for the Magic Valley. The Idaho Conservation League analyzed state and federal data and research on agriculture pollution in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer for the third year in a row.

Josh Johnson, central Idaho conservation associate for the League, said contamination, mainly from dairy operations and fertilizer use on farms, remains a concern.

"Not a wildly different conclusion than we've had the first two groundwater reports, but we essentially just have increased confidence in that conclusion now, three years in," Johnson explained. "Any new data that we get continues to reinforce the groundwater contamination issue from nitrogen and phosphorus."

The Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer provides drinking water for 300,000 Idahoans. The report showed there is growing evidence long-term ingestion of nitrate in drinking water affects people's health, in particular, increasing the risk of colorectal cancer.

The report also noted adverse health effects occur at nitrate levels below the federal limit of ten milligrams per liter. Nearly one in five public water systems in the Magic Valley has average nitrate levels above five milligrams per liter, according to samples collected over the past five years.

Johnson argued greater public awareness is needed on this issue. He compares it to contaminants like zinc and arsenic from mines.

"It's easier for the public to understand when it's something very toxic like that," Johnson acknowledged. "But in this case, it's not toxic in the same way, but it still has those health effects."

Johnson contended money also is needed to address this issue. He pointed to Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who is proposing the Columbia Basin Initiative, a sweeping proposal for the environment in the Northwest. It includes $700 million for watershed partnerships in the basin.

"It is proposed to go towards incentives for research at our state universities related to manure management, to dairies to help with on-farm management, and things like manure digesters," Johnson outlined.

Despite a push earlier in the year, Simpson's proposal has not yet been included in the infrastructure or budget reconciliation bills making their way through Congress.

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


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