From mountain peaks to deep canyons, Idaho is the river state. ICL was founded in great part to be a voice for clean water in our rivers and we still are one today. In fact, ICL reviews and comments on every Clean Water Act permit issued in the state of Idaho. We also advocate for high water quality standards in state and federal rulemakings. And we watchdog pollution discharges from mines, communities and industries, taking action whenever we see water pollution violations.
Keeping Water in Your Rivers
But speaking up for water quality isn’t enough to protect our great rivers. Idaho water law prioritizes taking water out of rivers for use on land, and that wreaks havoc on river systems. Rivers all across Idaho literally dry up every summer because people divert all the water out of them. This has disastrous effects for fish. It raises water temperatures, which leads to harmful algal blooms and other pollution problems, and strips rivers of their natural ability to move sediment and absorb flood flows when needed.
To protect the water in our rivers, ICL monitors new water right applications and engages in them when they threaten the instream river values Idahoans love. We also advocate at the state level for programs to help Idaho’s biggest users of water—primarily agriculture—do more with less water as we face the uncertainties of climate change. And, we combat needless new large dams, instead encouraging more efficient use of water statewide.
Water for Fish
Some of the biggest losers from Idaho’s history of drying up rivers are our iconic fish species. Historically, millions of salmon and steelhead returned to Idaho’s rivers every year. By the 1990s, these fish were placed on the endangered species list. By the early 2000s, bull trout were on the list too. ICL pushes for fish protective diversions when water is diverted from rivers, and we join regional colleagues in advocating for better Snake and Columbia River management to save these fish that are now seeing historically low returns.
One of our biggest concerns is Idaho’s laser-like focus on aquifer recharge. Aquifer recharge, or the practice of taking water out of rivers and putting it into the ground as storage, is the state of Idaho’s number one solution for our overallocated water supply. Aquifer recharge can be a good thing, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of healthy rivers. And it does not address the real problem: more water rights are issued to people and businesses than water exists.
Recent ICL Work to Protect Your Rivers
- ICL report: Most Sewage Treatment Plants in Idaho Are Not Making the Grade
- Working to keep the 2015 Waters of the United States Rule
- Advocating for new wild and scenic rivers
- Protecting Idaho’s rivers from mining waste