Editor’s  note: This posting was authored by Pat Ford. Many years  ago, Pat served as the executive director of ICL. Most recently, he was  the executive director for Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. Pat lives in  Boise, Idaho, and periodically contributes to the ICL blog.

"Idaho’s Sewer System is the Snake River."

This was the headline of Richard Manning’s front-page story  in High Country News on Aug. 4, 2014. The story’s worth reading more than once.  And on Saturday, Nov. 14, he’ll be in Boise to talk about it.

I doubt many Idahoans active in or sympathetic to  conservation think of the Snake as a sewer system for southern Idaho. "The Snake has pollution problems we should  fix," is probably more how we might put it.  And Idahoans generally will disagree with or just disbelieve Manning’s  assertion.

Yet Manning makes the case that it is accurate. Near the end of his story, a U.S. Geological  Survey hydrologist, Greg Clark, makes the sewage connection between the Snake River’s  industrial agriculture and Idaho Power Company’s three Hells Canyon  reservoirs:

"Clark corrects the impression that the range of pollutants  from industrial ag goes completely untreated. He sees the entire Snake as a  sewage system, with the reservoirs at the bottom end acting as de facto  sewage-treatment lagoons. Clark explains it using the terminology of that  science: the three huge reservoirs/lagoons provide primary, secondary and  tertiary treatment. He actually uses those terms.

“‘We should show the videos of what the bottom of Brownlee  looks like,’ he says. `It looks like a sewage-treatment facility. Fine-grained  muck. It’s really nasty stuff. It looks like the bottom of a septic tank. We  took a rover and went down and took videos, and there’s all these little  organisms down there decomposing stuff and there is gas bubbling up. It’s  nasty. It’s nasty.’"

ICL’s staff provided Manning information and leads during  his research, and the issues he raises are at the heart of ICL’s water work in  southern Idaho. Conservation work in  Idaho is tough across the board, but I think work on water in southern Idaho is  toughest. Its core issues run directly  through Idaho industrial-scale agriculture, whose  influences on law, politics and people are formidable.

Manning lives near Missoula and writes about water, food, forests  and conservation in nine books so far.  He is one of our region’s most far-seeing citizens. On Nov. 14, he will keynote the annual  dinner and meeting of the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, at the  Basque Center in downtown Boise, 6-9pm.  The title of his talk is, "The Burden and Promise of Our Great  Rivers." I am sure the Snake will be  featured, and sure he will make us think, clearly and urgently, about our great  river, where it’s headed, and what we owe it.  Tickets and information are available from Doug Paddock.