The National Academies of Science Study – 17 Years of Research to Consider
This story was written by the Our Gem Collaborative team for the CDA Press on Sunday, July 18, 2021.
With recent record-breaking warm temperatures, our beautiful lake is at the top of everyone’s mind. In fact, Governor Brad Little recently proclaimed July 2021 Lakes Appreciation Month, including a special mention of Coeur d’Alene Lake. This comes in the midst of a comprehensive assessment and review of data relevant to water quality in Coeur d’Alene Lake conducted by the prestigious National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NAS). The study is sponsored by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Kootenai County, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and is endorsed by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
Seventeen years ago, another NAS panel convened in response to the need for evaluating EPA’s remediation of legacy mine pollution in the Silver Valley. While that problem is relevant for lake water quality, the 2004 study focused narrowly on the Record of Decisions (RODs) issued by the EPA for the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex Superfund Site. There were no remedies selected for Coeur d’Alene Lake in these RODs. Instead, selection of a remedy was deferred, and the Lake Management Plan was signed by the State of Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. Subsequently, the Our Gem Collaborative convened to help educate north Idaho community members about status and trends in lake water quality. While convening another NAS panel may seem like déjà vu all over again, there are differences this time around. The current NAS review was prompted by exceedance of water quality triggers in the Lake.
What research work is being reviewed by the NAS panel? Consider for the moment only University of Idaho research: many faculty experts and scores of master’s and doctoral degree students from diverse departments have contributed scientific findings on lake trends in the 17 years between NAS studies. These studies include sediment composition in mine impacted areas from Dr. Dan Strawn and phosphorus availability and mobility in forest soils and the effects on water quality from Dr. Jeff Langman. Dr. James Moberly has published nearly 30 research papers relevant for lake metal contamination and algal growth and was also selected as a member of the NAS panel undertaking the current project.
This is to say nothing of the scores of water quality work from DEQ, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and the US Geological Survey. Hundreds and hundreds of pages of published studies and research project reports and presentations provide a substantial body of research data for the NAS panel to take into consideration before making their recommendations. An overarching goal of the NAS study is to determine if Coeur d’Alene Lake is at risk of becoming anoxic and releasing toxic metals into the water in the near future.
You can learn more by registering for the next virtual public session of the NAS panel on July 19, 10-11 a.m. (PDT). Community input has been solicited throughout the work of the panel. Find more information about NAS public sessions at uidaho.edu/OurGem. We look forward to the final report of the panel next year. Our community will be better prepared to act on the recommendations of the National Academies if we understand the depth and breadth of research that will inform the conclusions of the panel.
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 Chamber of Commerce, Kootenai County and CDA 2030.