(BOISE) A public health advisory for Brownlee Reservoir warns people to avoid swimming, wading, or recreating in or near the water due to toxic algae outbreaks, and to ensure children, pets and livestock are not exposed to the water. It’s no surprise to the Idaho Conservation League that this outbreak occurred in the Snake River. 

ICL’s recent study on the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (ESPA) found declining water quality as a result of increasing pollutants, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, fueled in large part by the rapid growth of the industrialized dairy industry in southern Idaho, and agricultural runoff.

Algae outbreaks occur when conditions in a waterbody – such as temperature and/or high levels of phosphorus or nitrates – promote the uncontrolled growth of algae. Swimming, wading or walking near water infested with toxic algae can irritate the eyes, throat and skin. In some instances, drinking water or ingesting food contaminated with toxic algae can lead to death.

ICL was founded to be a strong voice for clean water. The current state of the Snake River (referred to as “Idaho’s sewer system”) is emblematic of the water quality issues seen statewide. The Snake River starts out as a blue-ribbon trout stream in eastern Idaho but when it arrives at Brownlee Reservoir above Hells Canyon, the water is so polluted that the state of Idaho warns people not to eat fish from it or even let river water contact their skin. 

Austin Walkins, ICL’s senior conservation associate, said, “This needs to change. As Idahoans, we need to be doing more to protect water quality in the Snake River. 

While working to protect waters across the state, ICL has embarked on a campaign to restore the health of the Snake River.