“(It’s) just the amount of animal waste being produced out there,” said ICL Communications Director Scott Ki. “It’s the big industrial dairy folks that’s fueling, partly, things that are going into the easter snake plane aquifer.”
Pollution to an aquifer this large and this important to southern Idaho poses a public health risk, Ki said.
“WIth contaminated water it could cause people to get sick,” he said.
According to ICL’s study, there are an estimated 417,000 cows in the Magic Valley. However, those cows produce the same amount of bio-waste as a city of 12 million people.
“That manure has to go somewhere,” Josh Johnson, conservation associate in ICL’s Ketchum office, wrote in a news release. “Combine that animal waste with the fertilizer that’s used on the Snake River Plain and it’s too much for typical crops to absorb. The rest is free to drain into the aquifer or the river.”
The aquifer is an EPA-designated sole-source aquifer that supplies irrigation and drinking water to 300,000 Idaho residents, making it one of the most productive sole-source resources in the world, according to the ICL study.
The large amounts of manure add nitrates and phosphorous to the drinking supply. According to the study, 69% of water samples contained elevated nitrate levels. Data is limited for levels of phosphorous, but the study noted that the amount of phosphorous found in water at the Hagerman National Fish Hatchery doubled in the six-year period from 2011-2016.
Going forward, ICL would like to see the regulation of water and agriculture be consolidated under one agency. Right now, a number of agencies are responsible for ensuring the health of the aquifer, making accountability difficult, Ki said. Consolidating that effort would allow the agency “to play a better regulatory role in regulating what goes into the ground water,” he said.
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