It took about five years for me to be convinced that sharks didn't live in Lake Pend Oreille. It's a big lake and, for a kid, it seemed possible any number of beasts could dwell in its depths.
I blame Jaws, of course. As a child in the '80s, I first saw the movie while visiting relatives in Los Angeles. My uncle, who at the time worked in the film industry, had all kinds of interesting trivia to share—and not just about the mechanics of the big shark. When Quint gets bitten in half toward the end of the movie, I naively asked why blood came out of his mouth, rather than his stomach. My uncle, ever informative, gave me a crash course in abdominal trauma. Later, safe in my bed in north Idaho, I couldn't stop thinking about the killers I suspected were prowling the waters around Sandpoint, silently waiting to spill my viscera.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Jaws, with a special screening set to take place Aug. 20 in the pool at the Boise Racquet and Swim Club, and while I've long since been relieved of my fear that sharks patrol the waterways of the Northwest, there are real dangers below the surface.
A week or so ago, crews working with the Environmental Protection Agency on mine cleanup accidentally spilled an estimated 3 million gallons of tainted wastewater into Colorado's Animas River, turning it a putrid orange. Since then, two Colorado counties have declared states of emergency as water testing shows sharp increases in pollutants like arsenic.
Closer to home, two dogs have reportedly died in as many months after ingesting water in Payette Lake and near Hulls Gulch in Boise. The causes of their deaths are still under investigation, but one necropsy found what appeared to be algae in one of the animals' stomachs.
As summer winds down and Idahoans seek relief from the heat in nearby lakes and rivers, the Snake River Waterkeeper is trying to help keep swimmers safe. Boise Weekly Staff Writer Harrison Berry reports on the Waterkeeper's Swim App, which ranks the health of various bodies of water around southern Idaho. Some of the assessments are scarier than any shark.