Curious why restoring the Snake is one of ICL’s top priorities? Wondering how we’ll help clean up the river? We answer some common questions about our bold vision for a safe and clean Snake River for all to use and enjoy.
The Idaho Conservation League envisions a healthy and prosperous future for all who depend on the Snake River. And we’re not alone. The Snake River is the lifeblood of southern Idaho, irrigating Idaho’s agricultural heartland and providing drinking water to thousands of Idahoans. ICL’s work on the Snake is part of a collective effort by growers, soil and water conservation districts, fish farmers, recreationists and canal companies to find win-win solutions for all who use and enjoy the river.
You may be wondering why making the Snake River safe, swimmable and fishable is one of ICL’s top priorities. Maybe you’re curious about what exactly we’re planning to do to make our bold vision the new reality for the Snake. Perhaps you’re interested in how ICL’s efforts fit into the larger efforts underway in the Magic Valley to manage the river. Check out our answers to frequently asked questions about our Snake River campaign.
If you care about the future of this vital river, we would love to hear from you! Tell us why you love the Snake River and share photos of your adventures in the canyon or on the water. Plus, sign up for email updates about ICL’s Snake River campaign to keep up with the latest news.
Q: Why is ICL involved in cleaning up the Snake River?
A: Protecting Idaho’s clean water is a fundamental and critical part of ICL’s mission. ICL is involved in cleaning up the Snake River because a clean Snake River benefits public health, the economy, wildlife, and is a priority for our members who live throughout the Magic Valley, as well as along the entire reach of the Snake River. We see a clean Snake River as an important priority for everyone in the rapidly growing Twin Falls community and the surrounding area. It’s a priority because of the river’s various recreational opportunities, and many businesses and industries in the area rely on the Snake River and surrounding landscape.
As an advocacy organization, ICL’s involvement in efforts to clean up the Snake River plays several important roles – technical and policy expertise, an established voice in the Idaho State Legislature, and dedication to community engagement and advocacy. We recognize and work with many partners in our efforts – the canal companies, fish farms, producers, agricultural voices and experts, conservation districts, and local citizen groups like Friends of Rock Creek.
Q: The Snake River is so much cleaner than it used to be. Why do you want to clean it up? I swim, fish and boat the Snake River – it seems clean enough to me.
A: Today, the pollution in the Snake River is less visible than in the past, but these pollutants – chiefly phosphorus and nitrogen – aren’t harmless. Though ICL recognizes and applauds the important clean-up efforts undertaken by the canal companies and others to address sediments and pollution, there remains serious and worsening pollution that must be addressed for the sake of human and ecological health.
In surface water, phosphorus pollution leads to toxic algae outbreaks, especially in warmer months. The State of Idaho often issues public health warnings about fishing, swimming and allowing your pets in or near the river. Frankly, you and your loved ones could get seriously ill and your pets could die if exposed to the water when these warnings are issued. Warm water and phosphorus pollution in the Snake River also has disastrous impacts on fish and wildlife.
While the Snake River may be cleaner than it used to be, the precious groundwater beneath your feet has been increasingly contaminated by nitrate and phosphorus pollution. The same land-use practices that affect the Snake River impact the groundwater as well. Protecting your drinking water is a central focus of ICL’s Snake River Campaign. The Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer provides drinking water to about 300,000 Idahoans and is an essential resource.
Q: How is ICL planning to clean up the Snake River?
A: ICL works to ensure enforcement of existing protections, such as regulated
discharges from wastewater treatment plants. If we find pollutant levels higher than EPA guidelines, we alert local communities and help them find resources to address these issues. What’s known as point source discharges, such as wastewater treatment plants, are regulated. But nonpoint sources are not. Because of this, ICL works to reduce the amount of unregulated sources of pollutants, such as runoff from agriculture and dairies, to the Snake River and groundwater.
Soil health improvement efforts and regenerative agriculture practices (such as cover cropping, no and low till practices) are important strategies in cleaning up the river. Other soil conservation practices, improvements and investments in wastewater treatment, and efforts by canal companies in the region to construct wetlands and sediment trap ponds have also been successful ways to reduce pollution.
Cleaning up the Snake River is an ambitious effort that will require coordination from many different players – state, federal and local government agencies, private companies, individual producers, nonprofits like ICL, and many others. In addition, as Idaho and our nation plan a post-coronavirus economic recovery, we are working with stakeholders from across the state to advocate for increased investments in water quality, including §319 grants, WaterSmart grants, and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. These programs represent a win-win – they create jobs AND help restore water quality, benefiting all Idahoans.
Q: How does soil health fit into ICL’s Snake River Campaign?
A: Soil and water conservation efforts, such as cover cropping, low and no-till practices, crop rotation strategies and other efforts help reduce runoff from agriculture and other lands. Reduced runoff leads to less pollutants that flow to the Snake River or into groundwater. In addition, soil health improvements have critical economic and ecological benefits beyond water quality, such as addressing climate change through carbon sequestration.
ICL sees soil health as an important aspect of our Snake River and Climate campaigns and we are supportive of efforts by the NRCS, TNC, University of Idaho Extension, producers, consultants and many others to improve soil health and provide education and support on soil health to folks in the Magic Valley. ICL is interested in learning more about soil health efforts in the Magic Valley and how our work can support our partners in improving water quality.
Q: What is ICL’s position on different types of agriculture in the Mid-Snake?
A: ICL believes that all stakeholders involved in water quality of the Snake River should be part of the solution. Whatever the size or location of the operation, ICL would like to sit down with producers in the Snake River watershed and discuss solutions to help reduce the amount of pollutants that flow into the Snake River and groundwater.
Q: What is the role of farmers/producers in the Magic Valley in the campaign?
A: Because agriculture and dairy are important contributors to local communities, they play a major role in helping find solutions to clean up the Snake River and the aquifer. ICL sees many ways for farmers and producers to be involved with our Snake River Campaign as advocates, leaders, storytellers and partners. We are interested in hearing from farmers about their experiences and perspectives on water quality issues in the Magic Valley and helping to spread and share stories from Idaho farmers on the ICL blog, newsletter, social media, and website.
ICL would like to work with farmers, producers, local businesses and others in the area who want to help reduce the amount of pollutants that flows into the Snake River and groundwater while increasing their yields and becoming more efficient and profitable. We encourage all who are interested in cleaning up the Snake River and concerned about water quality in the region to join our email list, become a member of ICL, follow us on social media, attend an event and visit our website to learn more about ICL’s work on the issue.