Earlier this week the Our Gem Collaborative hosted the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine in Coeur d’Alene, where the topic of discussion centered around the recent findings from The Future of Water Quality in Coeur d’Alene Lake.
The third-party assessment of the lake’s water quality was published last month and contained records from the past three decades while also providing recommendations on the steps that need to be taken to preserve the quality of the lake.
Dan McCracken, a regional administrator based in Coeur d’Alene for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) provided some insight of the data, as well as answered questions pertaining to the work being done in the Silver Valley and how those efforts are benefiting the lake’s water quality.
“The cleanup work in the Silver Valley is contributing to the water quality improvements we are seeing in Coeur d’Alene Lake,” McCracken said. “In particular, the trend data shows that metals entering the lake have been declining as a result of the ongoing remediation work.”
In 2020, DEQ, Kootenai County and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with the support of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, asked the National Academies to analyze water quality data in Lake Coeur d’Alene and provide recommendations to address issues of concern.
In 2021, Gov. Brad Little established the Coeur d’Alene Lake Advisory Committee and directed $2 million for projects that reduce levels of phosphorus from entering the lake from wastewater, stormwater runoff, erosion, and other sources.
The city of Kellogg, in particular, has seen the benefits of these funds when earlier this year it was announced that they would receive half-a-million dollars to upgrade their stormwater collection system.
Keeping stormwater as clean and sediment-free as possible is tantamount to keeping the river clean as it makes its way to Lake Coeur d’Alene.
According to DEQ limnologist Craig Cooper, who spoke to the News-Press earlier this year, the health and cleanliness of Kellogg’s stormwater has a direct effect on the health of the lake.
It’s a balance of maintaining the correct levels of oxygen, phosphorus and algae, and when any one of these things gets out of balance it can disrupt the entire lake ecosystem.
“The science of the lake shows that the phosphorus levels are rising,” Cooper told the News-Press. “This is cause for concern. Kellogg’s stormwater projects were selected because stormwater is one of the major sources of nutrients to the lake. $515,000 was awarded by the state to complete these projects in an effort to reduce that stormwater load to the Coeur d’Alene River and reduce the amount of phosphorus going into the river.”
DEQ estimates that approximately 180 tons of phosphorus enter the lake on average each year.
Outside from this one particular benefit, modernizing stormwater systems has other benefits as well.
In 2022, Little made available an additional $20 million for projects that support the state’s 2009 Lake Management Plan and reduce nutrient loading to Lake Coeur d’Alene.
With the Coeur d’Alene River being one of the primary tributaries to the lake, projects within Shoshone County directly benefit the health of the lake and will continue to be prioritized to reduce the presence of harmful materials.
“The discussion at the Our Gem Event focused on activities we can pursue to continue to reduce phosphorus loading, and to implement recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences,” McCracken said. “One particular area of interest is the wastewater treatment plants that discharge to the lake and its tributaries. In Shoshone County, that would include the Page and Mullan plants operated by the South Fork Sewer District, and the city of Smelterville plant. There may be an opportunity to utilize ARPA funding to pursue upgrades at these facilities to benefit water quality. The recent trends are encouraging. They indicate that our efforts are starting to make a difference, but we have a lot of important work ahead of us. With the investment being made through Gov. Little’s Leading Idaho Initiative, we have the opportunity to make significant improvements to our wastewater treatment systems throughout the Basin and address other known sources of phosphorus.”
Little also mentioned the importance of protecting Lake Coeur d’Alene, specifically in regard to the surrounding environment and revenues from tourism.
“Many of us refer to Lake Coeur d’Alene as the gem of North Idaho and we all want to keep it that way,” Little said. “That is why continued protection of Lake Coeur d’Alene and all the economic and ecological benefits it provides us was a key part of my Leading Idaho initiative. With the NAS study and $20 million in Leading Idaho funding, we are already working on ways to continue improving the health of Lake Coeur d’Alene. I am proud of our recent successes and look forward to continued engagement on this issue with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, federal government, local governments and the people of North Idaho.”
The symposium was hosted by the Our Gem Coeur d’Alene Lake Collaborative and the Spokane River Forum and featured introductory remarks by Dr. Andrew Fields of the University of Idaho, a summary of the report presented by NAS committee members, comments from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, DEQ, EPA and Kootenai County, and a question and answer session with attendees.