Monitoring Idaho’s Water Bodies
This story was written by Guest author: Craig Nelson on behalf of the Our Gem Collaborative team for the CDA Press on Sunday, May 7, 2023. Read the original article.
Idaho is well-recognized for its scenic streams, rivers and lakes, with abundant water recreation opportunities that attract visitors from around the globe.
In order to assure that Idaho’s water bodies remain clean and available for swimming, fishing and domestic water supply, continuous monitoring and evaluation are needed. Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) is charged with providing consistent water body monitoring and assessment. In 1993, IDEQ initiated the Beneficial Use Reconnaissance Program (BURP) to gather reliable data on the biology, chemistry, and habitat conditions of Idaho’s water bodies.
This program is a cost-effective, efficient monitoring survey that collects and measures key water quality parameters to aid IDEQ in determining whether a water body is supporting its beneficial uses. A beneficial use is any of the various uses of water, including, but not limited to, aquatic biota, recreation, water supply, wildlife habitat, and aesthetics. The federal Clean Water Act requires states and tribes to develop standards to protect water bodies based on their beneficial uses. For example, if a river is designated to support salmonid spawning, then standards are applied to ensure that the water quality is suitable for salmonid reproduction. In Idaho, beneficial use designations are required for aquatic life and recreation.
Each summer, IDEQ technicians follow standardized procedures to collect aquatic insects, conduct fish surveys, and document habitat conditions from streams. BURP surveys are performed during the same low-flow time period each year, July 1 through September, so the information is comparable from one year to the next.
To ensure assessments can be applied to longer stream reaches or entire streams, monitoring sites must be representative. IDEQ uses standard selection steps to identify potential sites. BURP surveys are conducted on both public and private lands. IDEQ’s ability to enter private property is at the discretion of property owners. If a private property is identified as a desirable monitoring location, IDEQ always requests permission from the property owner before conducting any sampling. In addition, IDEQ assures the landowner that monitoring will not damage the property or resources.
The BURP procedure calls for the collection and analysis of aquatic insects and fish as “biological indicators.” Biological indicators are used because they are very sensitive to changes in water quality. Their presence, abundance, and health serve as indicators of the overall quality of a water body. Generally, unpolluted waters support a greater variety of aquatic insects and fish than polluted waters.
The BURP data are evaluated to determine if the water body is supporting its designated beneficial uses. If a water body is found to be not supporting beneficial uses, a water quality improvement plan, known as a total maximum daily load (TMDL), is developed to identify actions that will improve water quality in order to support all beneficial uses. If a water body is found to be supporting beneficial uses, it may be monitored again in the future to ensure it continues to do so.
Craig Nelson is a Water Quality Analyst for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ)
The Our Gem Coeur d’Alene Lake Collaborative is a team of committed and passionate professionals working to preserve lake health and protect water quality by promoting community awareness of local water resources through education, outreach and stewardship. Our Gem includes local experts from the University of Idaho Community Water Resource Center, Coeur d’Alene Tribe Lake Management Department, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Coeur d’Alene Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Connect Kootenai.