Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Idaho Chinook Salmon Spring Season Set to Begin April 25

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 10:03 AM

With more than 10,000 Chinook salmon waiting, Idaho anglers will be happy to hear that Idaho Fish and Game has officially set is spring Chinook season—opening Saturday, April 25—on parts of the Clearwater, Salmon, Lochsa, Little Salmon and Snake rivers. The IDFG Commission formally accepted the fishing season proposal from department officials March 24.

The season limit will be 20 adult Chinook salmon for seasons prior to Sept. 1. Adult Chinook salmon are defined as those 24 inches and longer.

As of March 22, almost 500 Chinook salmon were counted at Bonneville Dam, the first of eight dams salmon pass on their journey to Idaho. While this number is larger than for the same date since 2004, it is a small fraction of the number of spring Chinook salmon expected in Idaho. IDFG says the Clearwater region should have a harvest share of approximately 4,500 hatchery Chinook and the the lower Salmon should have an additional 6,200 hatchery Chinook. 

The fishing harvest in the spring of 2014 yielded about 3,700 on the Clearwater and 6,100 on the lower Salmon. 

Meanwhile the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy revealed its analysis of the tax package, sponsored by House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Moyle.  ICFP challenged Moyle's fiscal note attached to the bill which says that there would be a gain in General Fund Revenue in Fiscal year 2016. But ICFP says says that there would be a $50 million loss to General Fund Revenue. 

And IFCP argued that the current grocery tax credit ($100 for individuals and $120 for seniors) is, in fact, a bigger benefit to lower wage earners than an overall sales tax exemption on food. The isolate impact of both of the changes would mean a small increase (about $15 to $30) in taxes paid by the lowest 40 percent of wage earners, according to IFCP. The change would also decrease overall General Fund revenue.
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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Idaho Environmental Forum Teaches Lessons on Soil Health

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 4:46 PM

Volunteers from the Idaho Environmental Forum audience partook in Marlon Winger's demonstration of heathy soil. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Volunteers from the Idaho Environmental Forum audience partook in Marlon Winger's demonstration of heathy soil.

When asked to look at a generic picture of farmland and pinpoint a problem, most attendees at this afternoon's Idaho Environmental Forum couldn't pick out what was wrong. The scenery showed gentle slopes of tilled soil and a creek with grass growing along it. Some guessed maybe the stream was eroding the land. Others thought there wasn't enough grass between the stream and the tilled soil.

"We have lived in a disruptive soil structure for so long, we can't even see what's wrong with it," said speaker Marlon Winger, the state agronomist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. 

He said the the problem was the bare, tilled soil covering the land. 

"That battle starts up there on the naked soil."

Winger spent the lunch hour explaining how Idaho's system of agriculture is leading to unhealthy soil. Idaho farmers rely almost entirely on heavy machinery to till their farmlands, but Winger said soil should be left undisturbed.

He brought a science class-looking demonstration to prove this. In the demonstration, he took two samples of the same soil—one that had been tilled often and one that had not—and let volunteers pop them into separate tubes of water. The first soil instantly turned the water an opaque brown. The second soil remained intact and the water, clear. 

Then he performed another demonstration with the soil samples, where he poured water over the non-tilled soil and watched as the water quickly filtered and drained to the bottom. In the second, the water mostly settled on top, not seeping into the soil at all.

Winger explained that when soil doesn't get tilled, it leaves its natural ecosystem better intact. The fungi and bacteria and other organisms that live in the soil live off of decomposing plant matter, and create carbon, which helps plants grow. When the soil gets tilled, most of the carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and the soil is no longer as fertile.

"Conventionally tilled soil has no room for life," he said.

Having biodiversity in soil also creates pores throughout that trap and hold water, allowing for saturation. Tilled soil doesn't have nearly as many critters like earth worms to help create those pores.

Winger also said that when the soil is tilled and no longer stable, it becomes more susceptible to eroding and blowing away as dust. Sediment, especially when it's coated in phosphorous from fertilizers, is the number one pollutant to rivers and streams, he said.

"Agricultural soils don't have a water erosion and runoff problem. That's just a symptom," Winger said. "They have a water infiltration problem."

In his presentation, Winger talked about a farm outside if Marsing where he helped conduct an experiment. The farmers decided to leave their land untilled for three years. After that, they planted a cover crop to shade the ground and provide nutrients for the soil. Then they brought in 300 cows and let them eat the grassy crop—leaving manure behind as a natural fertilizer.

The soil ended up with 7.2 million earthworms per acre. That's 165 earthworms in one cubic foot, compared to the four to 10 one would usually find in a cubic foot of tilled soil, according to Winger. 

"So will soil respond to good soil health practices?" he said. "Yes."

Winger said it's important for farmers around the state to think beyond sustainable farming and start thinking about "restorative farming." He stressed that after harvesting a potato crop, for example, farmers should immediately reseed a cover crop to protect and nourish the soil.

Not tilling the soil also saves money because it requires less water as soil gets better at absorbing the irrigation, and it skips expensive tilling machine operations. He said heathy soil is becoming more and more important in the arid west to conserve water. It's not exactly common yet, though.

"We are in the infancy of no-till systems," Winger said. "But those farms doing that—they are the innovators." 
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Friday, March 6, 2015

Idaho Power Approved for One-Year Energy Sales Agreement with Simplot's Pocatello Plant

Posted By on Fri, Mar 6, 2015 at 12:25 PM

Regulators at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission have approved a one-year energy sales agreement between Idaho Power and J.R. Simplot Company's fertilizer plant in Pocatello.

Power generated at the plant comes from heat or steam that is the byproduct of a fertilizer manufacturing process. The contract calls for an average of 10 megawatts of electricity per month, though the plant can produce as many as 15.9 megawatts per month.

Regulators have determined that Simplot's facility qualifies as a renewable energy generation project under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978, or PURPA, which requires utilities to purchase energy from renewable generation projects at regulator-established rates. 

The PUC has approved a proposed rate of $52.72 to be paid to Simplot in 2015, and $52.28 in 2016, though these rates will vary during heavier and lighter load hours, days and seasons over the course of the year.

In February, the PUC reduced the timeline for some PURPA contracts from the previously set 20 years to five years. Idaho Power, meanwhile, is trying to convince the PUC to further reduce those contracts to two years.

According to the PUC, the utility company contends that 20-year contracts requiring the purchase of "intermittent, renewable energy" places "undue risk on customers at a time when ... it has sufficient resources to meet customer demand."

What's more, "the company claims acceptance of the contracts will inflate power supply costs and negatively impact the reliability of its energy delivery system." 

Read the contract ruling below.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

BLM to Auction Land Near Payette for Oil and Gas Leases

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 1:53 PM

Alta Mesa V.P. of Operations Dale Hayes (center)  gave Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter (right) a tour of the company's Payette County pipeline in July 2014. - MATT FURBER
  • Matt Furber
  • Alta Mesa V.P. of Operations Dale Hayes (center) gave Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter (right) a tour of the company's Payette County pipeline in July 2014.
As controversy continues over oil and gas exploration in Payette County, the Bureau of Land Management is putting five parcels of land six miles east of the city of Payette up for auction

The parcels, which range in size from 560 acres to more than 1,700 acres, carry two stipulations: no activity can take place either above or below the surface of the land. That is, until the Four Rivers Resource Management Plan—which brings together three separate western Idaho land use plans—is completed. According to Tate Fischer, field manager for the Four Rivers Field Office, the plan should be complete by 2016.

Oil and gas companies have been eager to begin drilling in the Payette County area for years, though operations have been slow to mature. After drilling several successful test wells in the county, Canada-based energy company Bridge Resources declared bankruptcy on more than $44 million in debt. That was in 2011. In 2012, Texas-based Alta Mesa snapped up Bridge's leases and has been waiting ever since to get its operations under way.

Meanwhile, opposition to oil and gas drilling in the county has only grown. In November 2014, local anti-fracking activist Alma Hasse found herself locked in the Payette County Jail after being taken in handcuffs from a meeting of the Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission. The body was considering matters related to oil and gas exploration, and when a P&Z commissioner challenged Hasse's testimony after public comment was closed, she fired back. When she refused to leave the meeting, she was jailed and held for seven days, refusing to give her name to police.

The upcoming lease auction is set for Thursday, May 28 at the BLM Idaho State Office in Boise. Bidding is open to the public, and prospective buyers will be required to register beforehand. Registration will start at 7:45 a.m., with the main oral auction occurring at 9 a.m. Following the national standard, minimum bids of $2 per acre will be accepted.

Written protests can be submitted by mail or fax to the BLM Idaho State Office: 1387 S. Vinnell Way, Boise, 208-373-3899. Address protests to Tracy Hadley by 4 p.m., Tuesday, March 31. For instructions on filling out a protest, see Page 5 of the Notice of Competitive Oil and Gas Lease Sale (below).

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Video: Orca Advocates Want Snake River Dams Breached

Posted By on Sun, Mar 1, 2015 at 9:08 AM

A call to action from a group of killer-whale advocates is dramatic: breach the four Lower Snake River Dams.

The dams provide electricity to the Pacific Northwest, but members of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Chinook Salmon Initiative insist that whales in the Puget Sound are dying as a result of dwindling numbers of salmon making their way from the Lower Snake River to the ocean. The SRKWCSI is petitioning to have the dams removed. 

Wanda Keefer, manager of Washington's Port of Clarkston questions whether there's a direct connection between a possible dam breach and an increase of the Orca whale population. Keefer told Lewiston's KLEW-TV, "We're worried about the devastation that would be left behind with silting, lack of re-vegetation, dust, dead fish, and narrower channels for people to even fish in."

Meanwhile the Chinook Salmon Initiative Group says it will take its fight to public officials in Idaho, Washington and even the White House in a push to breach the Lower Snake River dams.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Minor Earthquakes Rumble Through North Idaho's Lucky Friday Silver Mine

Posted By on Sat, Feb 28, 2015 at 9:21 AM

In the wake of a minor earthquake on Feb. 27, no injuries have been reported at the Lucky Friday Mine. The quake, which officials have said measured at a 2.7 magnitude, shook portions of northern Idaho.

The Associated Press reports that some miners felt the quake—there were approximately 50 workers in the mine at the time of the quake. A smaller 2.4 magnitude quake was registered in the same region only a day earlier. An inspection of the Lucky Friday Mine deemed it to be safe, and work resumed later in the day.

Lucky Friday, one of the nation's deepest silver mines, was the scene of a number of accidents in 2011, two of which resulted in death: In April 2011, a miner was trapped after a roof collapsed. His body was recovered nine days later. In July 2011, two separate fires led to evacuations from the mine. In November 2011, a miner was killed at the site and in December 2011, another accident resulted in evacuations. Following hefty fines and a federal investigation, the mine was shut down in early 2012 for a year but resumed operations in February 2013.

The AP reports that a senior research geologist with the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology notes that the recent quakes were probably caused by a geologic fault rather than mining activity.
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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Middleton Withdraws Appeal, Allowing Dixie Drain Project to Move Forward

Posted By on Sat, Feb 14, 2015 at 10:33 AM

A treatment system meant to keep the Boise and Snake rivers clean is back on track after the city of Middleton withdrew its appeal of a conditional use permit for the so-called Dixie Drain Phosphorous Offset Project.

Located near Parma, the Dixie Drain is intended to remove phosphorous from the Boise River before its confluence with the Snake River by diverting water into a three-phase treatment facility. Water flowing out of the drain would help Boise and surrounding communities better meet the standards of the Clean Water Act.

The cities of Greenleaf and Middleton both appealed Boise's application for a conditional use permit, alleging that the project would impact their ability to grow and raising concerns that excess downstream phosphorous would lead to tighter restrictions from the Environmental Protection Agency.

They also took aim at the project's cost, which was initially expected to be $12 million. The city of Boise agreed to assist both cities with upgrades to their wastewater treatment plants in an agreement to drop their appeals against the project. Greenleaf gave its OK to the Dixie Drain in late January, but Middleton officials waited until this week to sign off on the agreement. A final cost figure, including the Greenleaf and Middleton upgrades, has yet to be released.

"Residents of both cities will benefit from the agreement. Middleton appreciates Boise's effort to recognize the impact of Boise's permits and projects on water quality near Middleton," wrote Middleton Mayor Darin Taylor in a press release.

Now that the Middleton has withdrawn its appeal, the Dixie Drain project is set to move forward with construction in the early spring.
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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sponsor of Suction Mining Bill 'Can't Believe' Its Idaho House Committee Passage

Posted By on Thu, Feb 12, 2015 at 9:56 AM

A bill that would allow dredge miners to make an end run around federal regulators is advancing at the Idaho Legislature.

In June 2013, a federal judge ordered suction dredge miners along the North Fork of the Clearwater River to stop their operations saying that public recreation and the river's archeological history were more important than the would-be gold miners' dreams.

But a measure sponsored by Riggins Republican Rep. Paul Shepherd would exempt suction dredge activities from provisions of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Lewiston Tribune reports that the bill was prompted by ongoing disputes between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which denied discharge permits in 2013 because the dredge mining had caused stream pollution.

The House Resources and Conservation Committee advanced the bill to the full House for consideration by voice vote, but even the Tribune's William Spence reports that even Shepherd was surprised by its success. 

"I can't believe it," said Shpehred after seeing his bill sent to the House amending order for some changes and full consideration.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pollution Rising in Snake River Aquifer

Posted By on Sat, Jan 31, 2015 at 12:13 PM


A recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey found that pollution is increasing in the Snake River aquifer, which provides drinking water to a fifth of Idahoans. 

Boise State Public Radio reported that USGS hydrologist Kenneth Skinner says the Snake River aquifer is one of the cleanest in the country, but nitrate from agricultural fertilizers and dairies is growing. Nitrate can cause serious health problems, especially for young children, when found in drinking water.

In the USGS' study of the aquifer, scientists found that four percent of the testing locations have levels that exceed drinking water standards. The areas with the greatest nitrate concentrations, according to Skinner, are around the Paul and Minidoka area.

"There’s a lot of nitrogen inputs coming in that area, but the ground water there is just moving along slowly," Skinner told BSPR. "So those nitrogen inputs have time to hit the ground water table and start working their way down into depth were the pumps are for people.”

He added that pollution increase is slowing as farmers improve their practices, but it will take a long time for existing nitrate to leave the groundwater.

"One scenario we ran was if they all just quit farming and the dairy men all went away, how long would it take to show up in the ground water?” Skinner said. “And in [Minidoka County] it was about 40 or 50 years to see a change in nitrate concentration.”

Skinner's previous studies show that within 30 years, an even bigger slice of Minidoka County as well as a portion of Twin Falls County around Buhl could be facing undrinkable water.

The Snake River aquifer faces another threat in the form of spent nuclear fuel that may be deposited at the Idaho National Laboratory. Boise Weekly reported on that possibility on Jan. 15 when former governors Cecil Andrus and Phil Bat held a press conference condemning Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's attempt to bring 37.5 tons of nuclear waste from around the country.

"If there was contamination in that water," Batt said, "it would cause our potato industry to fold up. It would cause fish farms to fold up in Magic Valley. It would create all kind of problems with municipal water."

"It could gain $10 million in revenue, but that isn't one tenth of one percent of what you're gambling against if any of that waste gets lose in the aquifer," Andrus added.
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Friday, January 23, 2015

Video: Dredging of Snake River Continues

Posted By on Fri, Jan 23, 2015 at 10:01 AM

Crews with the Idaho Army Corps of Engineers say everything "is running smoothly" two weeks of their massive dredging efforts in the lower Snake and Clearwater rivers. 

KLEW-TV reports that it may be February before commercial traffic near the Port of Lewiston sees any change, but the dredgers are making their way up river.

"It was really becoming a safety issue," Port Manager David Doeringsfeld told KLEW-TV. "Tugs were having to be really careful about avoiding those high areas where it was so shallow."

Doeringsfeld said recent years have seen six barges that have been grounded within the dredging area.

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