By: Sarah Garcia, District Administrator Bonner Soil & Conservation District
By Chantilly Higbee
Sandpoint Reader 2/28/2019Citizen science-driven monitoring programs are rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after ways to answer water quality-related questions at local, regional, and national levels. They empower communities by enabling better understanding of local waterways and by supporting the active stewardship of these important resources.
Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper’s volunteer-driven Water Quality Monitoring Program (WQMP) has relied on a dedicated team of community members to collect water quality data from 15 sites on Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River for the last 7 years. LPOW provides a centralized training each year, during which the team learns and practices how to implement the collection methods. We are incredibly lucky to have the support and dedication of this volunteer group. They do invaluable work, and it is evident just how invested they are in understanding the health of our watershed.
Despite its robust history and support, the program doesn’t come without its challenges. Thankfully, some members are currently able to monitor multiple sites. But this extra commitment can be challenging, particularly when lake conditions are less-than-desirable. So this program is in need of at least three additional community members who would be willing to contribute to the program by volunteering their time (and taking the extra load off of our current volunteers). No experience is needed! This is a great opportunity to get out on the lake once a month during the summer, while also contributing to an important cause.
The data generated by this program has been used to inform agencies of site-specific water quality impairments and serves as a baseline for understanding the unique characteristics of our waterways. To the best of our ability, we monitor the same parameters as those measured by government agencies such as Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The sites that we monitor are, for the most part different from those monitored by DEQ. This is important because it means that together, we can quickly identify future impairments if they arise. In addition to sites on the Pend Oreille River, we monitor nearshore areas, some of which are used heavily for recreation.
The Lake Pend Oreille WQMP is the core program that enables our organization to uphold our mission of keeping Lake Pend Oreille swimmable, fishable, and drinkable. The program cannot exist without volunteer support. They truly are the life blood of our organization.
Monitoring takes place on the third Tuesday of each month from May through September. Volunteers can use any watercraft they prefer, although some sites (e.g. Pend Oreille River) require a motor boat given technical constraints.
If you are interested in becoming a WQMP volunteer, or even serving as a motor boat shuttle for other volunteers, stop by our office in downtown Sandpoint at 100A Cedar Street, or email Chantilly@lpow.org.
Chantilly Higbee is the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper and Volunteer Coordinator for the Water Quality Monitoring Program.
written by Matt Nykiel
Local conservationists are asking the U.S. Coast Guard to do a better job of identifying and mitigating the risks that will come along with building a new railroad bridge across Lake Pend Oreille, in particular the potential risk of a train derailing and spilling crude oil and other flammable, hazardous cargo.
The Coast Guard released the first draft of a report that seeks to identify the costs, benefits, and risks of BNSF Railway’s proposal to install 2 construction bridges and 3 permanent rail bridges, one of which would stretch across Lake Pend Oreille, near Sandpoint, Idaho. The public comment period associated with the report is likely one of the last opportunities for people to weigh in.
“We all agree that transporting goods by rail is an important part of Idaho’s economy,” said Matt Nykiel Conservation Associate with the Idaho Conservation League. “At the same time, local folks deserve a comprehensive analysis of all the risks of transporting crude oil and other dangerous substances by rail and an honest discussion about what BNSF and the state need to do to protect our families and businesses.”
According to state and railroad officials, approximately 24 unit trains carry crude oil through Sandpoint per week. Officials also project that Idaho’s rail traffic could increase by 143 percent by 2040.
“BNSF is proposing three- to five-years of construction for this project,” said Chantilly Higbee, the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper. “The construction alone would be a significant burden on our community, so we believe the highest standard of environmental review should be performed. We would get this through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Coast Guard’s draft Environmental Assessment (EA) isn’t sufficient for a project of this magnitude.”
Montanan, Sandy Compton, lives downstream from the site of the most recent train derailment in this area, which spilled coal into the Clark Fork River in 2017. “If that train had been carrying lumber or grain, which used to make up a great deal of loads on that line, that would be one thing,” said Compton. “But flammables like coal and oil? It took the coal combusting on the riverbank, during wildfire season, to motivate a legitimate response from rail officials. An uncontained oil spill would be a disaster for hundreds of miles downstream.”
The Coast Guard is accepting public comment on its Draft Environmental Assessment through March 25, 2019. Two public hearings are scheduled for March 13, 2019 – one at 8 AM and one at 6 PM – where the Coast Guard will take comments on its environmental review of the proposed rail bridge. Both hearings will take place at the Ponderay Events Center, 401 Bonner Mall Way, Ponderay, Idaho.
“We support transporting goods by rail,” stated Chantilly Higbee, the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper. “We also want a complete EIS that identifies all risks to human, economic, and environmental health, so that we can mitigate or eliminate those risks to best protect our community and our lake.”
Written by: Shannon Williamson, Executive Director, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper
It’s almost Valentine’s Day and love is in the air! More importantly, pentachlorophenol (PCP) is still flowing into Sand Creek and we think that sucks. I don’t mean to be overly harsh, but this is important. The recap is coming, but please see the 9/7/17 edition of the READER for the full backstory.
PCP is classified as a probable human carcinogen and is associated with renal and neurological effects. It’s not a substance that you would want to voluntarily connect with. It’s also one of the groundwater contaminants originating from the Joslyn property north of Super One on the west side of Boyer, which is where wood preservation operations were formally conducted.
As many of you know, the soils in Sandpoint are full of clay and don’t drain worth anything. This means that our groundwater mingles with our surface water on a regular basis and any groundwater contaminants are free to flow during precipitation events. The Joslyn property is chock full of groundwater contaminants and in this case, PCP is mixing with surface stormwater and running directly into Sand Creek.
When we first started testing the stormwater that enters Sand Creek a few years ago, we had no idea what to expect. Our discovery of PCP was troubling to say the least. As you know, Sand Creek is a popular destination for boaters, kayakers, paddle boarders and yes – swimmers. Having a probable carcinogen flowing into Sand Creek on the regular is frankly unacceptable.
With continued monitoring, we’ve noticed that the concentrations of PCP in stormwater are increasing. Our earliest test indicated a relatively minor amount of PCP at 0.84 micrograms per liter. Our most recent monitoring results really set off alarm bells. Lab tests indicated a whopping 21.1 micrograms per liter of PCP. That level exceeds Idaho’s chronic and acute water quality criteria to protect aquatic life.
In our opinion, any detectable level of PCP is problematic, but we’ve entered new territory. We are mission-bound to address this problem and that is exactly what we intend to do. We are here to make sure your local waterways are swimmable, fishable and drinkable.
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is charged with enforcing the cleanup of the Joslyn Manufacturing Company’s polluted property and I don’t envy them. There have been some efforts at remediation, such as the installation of an “asphalt cap”, which is apparently lackluster in its ability to prevent pollutant transfer between groundwater and surface water. We would like to see more robust remediation strategies implemented sooner rather than later, but it’s a complex process.
We’ve shared our data with DEQ, but for them to use information from a third party, we must collect data under a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP). That’s cool because we’ve done this before for a different project. However, this is going to be financially painful. Without going into all the details, this requirement will basically triple the costs of monitoring for PCP in Sand Creek. Ouch. We are a nonprofit trying to serve the public - we’re not flush with cash. Yet we need to keep testing to determine if the problem is improving, getting worse, or staying the same. This information is critical to the health of Sand Creek and everything that calls it home. The fish, the birds, the otters, the plankton, the bottom dwellers – YOU!
We need your help. We need to triple the amount of dollars going into monitoring the stormwater that is coming off this site and surrounding areas and dumping into Sand Creek. We are completely ready to up our quality assurance game, but we can’t do it alone. It was already expensive at $325 per sample event. We now need to devote $975 per sample event with the addition of quality control samples. Please help us keep Sand Creek swimmable, fishable and drinkable. This is your home, your community, and your water. Please help us by donating today at www.lpow.org. Feel free to drop by our office at the corner of 1st Avenue and Cedar Street or give us a call at 208-597-7188 with your questions or comments. We would love to hear from you!
by Chantilly Higbee
Optimization is important to the sustainability of any industry. Transportation by rail is no exception. However, the benefits gained by working efficiently should be balanced against the costs and risks imposed by implementing new methods.
It is unclear whether the benefits of the proposed BNSF second rail bridge will outweigh the costs and risks to the health of people, the economy, and the environment in Bonner County. For this reason, the US Coast Guard (USCG) should require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as its NEPA-required environmental review so that concerns brought up by our community can be assessed. A sufficient cost-benefit analysis cannot be performed until we have a complete understanding of the risks associated with a project of this magnitude and scope. Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper (LPOW) believes this is a reasonable ask of the permitting agency and some of our concerns include the following:
BNSF alleges the project will reduce rail congestion. In theory, this should also reduce the wait time for vehicles sitting at crossings. However, BNSF has not yet provided evidence to support this claim, especially given the lack of underpasses or overpasses in this area. Rather, considering that freight movement is projected to increase over the next 25 years (US Bureau of Transportation Statistics), nearly doubling by 2035 (Feb. 26, 2018, Spokesman Review) wait times and emergency response times may not improve.
Consider also the increased risk of a derailment, especially one carrying hazardous materials, given the projected increase in transportation by rail as noted above. Local agencies are doing what they can to acknowledge this risk by developing a Geographic Response Plan (GRP) to respond to a derailment. But as useful a tool as the GRP is, it does nothing to outright prevent a derailment. Thus, the risk and consequences of a spill remain.
While BNSF claims that it institutes an unrelenting focus on safety, such a claim is burdened under the two derailments that occurred in Bonner County since 2017. Many people in our community are concerned by unaddressed deficiencies in the rail system in north Idaho, like the absence of state track inspectors and a lingering uncertainty about whether or not BNSF can contain an oil spill during challenging times of the year.
Despite all this, BNSF has yet to convince Bonner County residents that the risk of a second rail bridge is worth the reward. Indeed, what is the reward? It is unclear whether Bonner County has anything to gain, directly, given BNSF’s reticence to provide specific evidence or an independent report substantiating any of the benefits it claims a second bridge would bring our community.
When USCG publishes the public notice regarding its decision on whether to perform an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an EIS and how/when to comment, LPOW will be present at every opportunity to encourage an EIS is performed. We encourage readers to also submit comments and attend any public hearings when the comment period is announced.
By: Sharon Bosley
Water is life. Water is important to all living things; in some organisms, up to 90% of their body weight comes from water. Water is a fundamental human need. Each person on Earth requires clean, safe water for drinking, cooking, and simply keeping themselves clean.
Greetings fellow aquaphiles, aka water lovers. Let me introduce myself, my name is Sharon Bosley and I am Lake Pend Oreille WATERKEEPER’s (LPOW’s) new Communications Associate. This is a new position that involves keeping the public up to date on current issues within our local watershed. I’m excited to create a vision for LPOW’s communications strategies to make sure members of this community don’t miss a thing when it comes to protecting the health of our lake and other local waterways. We have many new and fun activities planned in the next year that will focus on keeping our lake swimmable, drinkable and fishable. Our new expanded team will continue to hold polluters accountable and keep the community informed of our progress. I have great respect for this organization and look forward to continuing to help drive their mission here on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille.
LPOW is a member organization of the international WATERKEEPER Alliance, which works collectively to protect every community’s right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. WATERKEEPERS are a global network of grassroots leaders that work to address unique issues that impact their watersheds. Having a local WATERKEEPER means you have an organization that is committed to protecting and preserving Lake Pend Oreille and its associated waterways. WATERKEEPERS work everyday around the world on behalf of the common good and that’s what we’re doing right here in your backyard.
Although LPOW is a part of the international WATERKEEPER Alliance, we do not receive funding from them. LPOW would not exist without the generous support of members and donors. In fact, 100% of our funding comes from donations, members, foundations and other grants. LPOW is truly a grassroots organization. We have no large corporate sponsors. No huge budget. Our members and supporters play a crucial role in keeping LPOW running strong and we would like to thank them for their continuing support to help protect the one thing that is important to all humans, clean water.
Feel the need to satiate your inner water warrior? Stay connected to hear about opportunities to become involved by signing up for our email newsletter at www.lpow.org, as well as, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Be sure to keep an eye out for our #GivingTuesday campaign. This is a day of giving in the middle of a season of consumerism. Consider giving the gift of protecting our lake this season with a membership to LPOW. We will also be working to expand our volunteer opportunities by offering a monthly volunteer orientation. In addition, we are in the process of planning some fun events in 2019 to celebrate LPOW’s 10th year as a WATERKEEPER. So get involved and stay connected to help protect and restore Lake Pend Oreille, our Lake for Life.
Sharon is from Michigan and graduated from Michigan Technological University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technologies. After college she moved to Idaho to experience all of the natural wonders and outdoor adventures that this great state offers. She worked at Micron Technologies in Boise for eight years before deciding to take a break to stay home with her two children. At that point she realized her need to be by water and chose to relocate to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
In the meantime, Sharon and her husband focused their attention on creating a sustainable lifestyle by bike commuting, urban farming and reducing and reusing as much as possible. This focus led to Sharon’s involvement with Coeur d’Alene’s Earth Day Fair. She planned and organized the event as a volunteer which led to her to her involvement with Kootenai Environmental Alliance (KEA). She then joined the KEA board and soon after became a part time staff member as the Development Director. This position grew and she eventually became the Executive Director of the organization. As Executive Director, Sharon worked to expand KEA’s educational programs as well as laid the foundation for their new Water Quality testing program. Her three years of experience with KEA has given her a strong foundation for non-profit work that will enhance the capacity of LPOW to reach a broader audience
10/18/18 - Sandpoint Reader
By: Chantilly Higbee
Hi – my name is Chantilly Higbee and I recently joined the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper (LPOW) team as the organization’s Waterkeeper. I’ve always had an inherent drive to study and improve the state of impaired local lands and waterways. This drive led me to earn a M.S. in Biology from Eastern Washington University, where I studied the effects of metal pollution on a lake-dwelling macroinvertebrate. During my academic tenure I performed lab- and field-based research projects aimed at understanding the transport, fate, and consequences of pollution and invasive species to freshwater ecosystems and human health. For the last two years I conducted stream surveys and fish habitat assessments throughout North Idaho. Now, I look forward to using my technical background to protect the Clark Fork/Pend Oreille watershed at the service of LPOW, Sandpoint, and neighboring communities.
I was driven to work for Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper because I admire the organization’s commitment to protecting local waterways through clean water initiatives and projects based in empirical science and community engagement. The organization’s mission parallels my own lifetime ambitions and I see this opportunity as a chance to do meaningful work with lasting impact.
Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper relies on a strong team of volunteers to monitor the lake for a number of chemical and biological parameters through the Water Quality Monitoring Program. Of LPOW’s many campaigns, I am most excited to run this program next field season (June-October) and to help LPOW obtain the funding needed to implement a complementary Stormwater Monitoring Program by spring 2019. Long-term datasets such as that established by LPOW form a baseline and can aid in early detection of water quality impairments.
While I will spend a good amount of my time as Waterkeeper heading up our water quality monitoring efforts, I also look forward to immersing myself in a number of time-sensitive projects. At the forefront of the organization’s agenda, LPOW is urging the lead federal agency of the BNSF Sandpoint Junction Connector Project (U.S. Coast Guard) to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement before BNSF proceeds with the proposed construction. This environmental review is important because increased rail traffic, bridge construction, and related activities have the potential to impair the quality and function of our local waterways. You can look for progress updates on this and other projects, as well as opportunities to support LPOW’s efforts in the coming months.
In addition to working on the aforementioned projects, I enjoy helping community members connect with the natural world through scientific exploration, educational activities, and outdoor adventures. In the past, I hosted classroom activities exposing elementary school children to the exciting world of macroinvertebrates that live in our local lakes and wetlands. Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper hosts the Watershed Discovery Camp (in July) and hands-on classroom demonstrations for 5th-graders (throughout the school year). These are wonderful opportunities to get children thinking about Lake Pend Oreille’s unique ecosystem, how pollution can degrade the many beneficial uses of the lake, and how community members can help keep the lake swimmable, fishable, and drinkable for generations to come.
As a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, I am always looking for a friend to join me while hiking, cycling, climbing, or skiing. I am originally from Spokane, WA and although I’ve spent much of my time working and recreating in North Idaho, I am new to Sandpoint. Feel free to stop by the LPOW office at 100 A Cedar Street (right next to the Cedar Street Bridge) to say hello and to share any of your favorite local hikes or “must do” activities. In exchange, I promise to have a warm cup of locally-roasted coffee ready to share with you.
4/12/18 - Sandpoint Reader
By: Shannon Williamson
I’m going to be straight up with you – this article is about the proposed BNSF rail bridge expansion. Again. This is a BIG deal, so you’re probably going to be hearing about it from me on the regular because there are a lot of moving parts and timelines, and the rationale for the whole thing is questionable in general.
First, if you haven’t written to the U.S. Coast Guard asking that they conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed BNSF rail bridge expansion project, PLEASE do so! You can find a link to talking points and contact information for the Coast Guard on LPOW’s homepage (www.lpow.org).
Rather than re-hashing why a full EIS is most definitely needed (please see the March 15th and April 5th editions of the RReader for more info), I wanted to spend the rest of my word count on BNSF’s rationale for expanding bridge and track infrastructure in our neck of the woods and how my brain is processing this.
BNSF asserts that double tracking rail bridges will relieve congestion of traffic due to Sandpoint’s bottleneck where rail lines converge before heading over the lake. If I knew nothing about the state of our rail crossings in Sandpoint, I would take this statement at face value and call it good.
Unfortunately for us, the vast majority of our rail crossings are “at grade”, meaning they do not go over or under the tracks. Let’s break this down. Double tracking provides the infrastructure necessary to increase traffic. As traffic increases, trains will have the ability to move in both directions simultaneously, which is after all the intended consequence. This is great for moving products from point A to point B more efficiently. There’s just one thing – we’ll all still be sitting behind closed gates watching products move from point A to point B.
BNSF’s counterpoint to this argument is to say that they have no way (!) of predicting changes in train traffic volume in the years to come as it’s all market driven. It might go up, it might go down, who knows? WHO KNOWS?
Again, I could see myself head nodding at this, but... BNSF’s own permit application to the Army Corps states “The project need is based on continued growth of freight rail service demands in the northern tier high volume traffic corridor between the Midwest (Chicago Terminus) and the West Coast…Rail traffic volumes have risen steadily for the past three decades…” It seems to me that BNSF is counting on rail traffic increasing, not decreasing. I also seriously doubt that BNSF would undertake a project of this magnitude and expense if they just weren’t sure.
What does this particular storyline have to do with water quality? Not a whole lot if you ignore the potential for a significant increase in the transport of hazardous materials next to and over our local waterways. What it should illuminate is the absolute need for a thorough review of 1) the purpose and need of the proposed action; 2) a description of the affected environments; 3) a range of alternatives to the proposed action; and 3) an analysis of environmental impacts of the alternatives. In other words, an EIS!
Should we just take BNSF’s word that their proposed rail expansion effort will make all of our lives better or should an EIS be used to lay all of the facts out on the line for permitting agencies to base their decisions on?
I’m going with the later.
Sandpoint Reader - 3/15/18
By: Shannon Williamson
You’ve probably already heard that BNSF submitted permit applications to build a second rail bridge over Lake Pend Oreille. Correction – it’s actually THREE new bridges – one over the lake, one over Sand Creek and one over Bridge Street leading to City Beach.
When the public notice was published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), I cracked my knuckles and got down to business. There was a whole lot going on in that notice, but here’s what really jumped out at me. There will be no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), just an Environmental Assessment (EA), which is like diet EIS. I’m sorry, but NOPE!
There are two federal agencies and one state agency involved in permitting. These include the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), which is the lead permitting agency, USACE, and Idaho Department of Lands (IDL). For the sake of this article, I’m going to focus mostly on USCG because they are in charge of the environmental analysis under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
It’s critically important that an EIS is carried out for this project in order to fully evaluate all of the broad reaching implications including impacts to water quality, noise and air pollution, traffic congestion, delayed emergency response and more. We’re still waiting for the USCG to publicly notice this project so that we can officially weigh in on this.
BNSF definitely doesn’t want an EIS because it would trigger a scoping process to solicit public feedback from a wide variety of stakeholders. This would delay when construction could start, and BNSF wants to start this fall. Seems a bit rushed, don’t you think?
It’s going to take more thanour request for an EIS rather than an EA. If you’re concerned about this project, please ask your local and state elected officials, board members of the Lakes Commission, and other advocacy groups to not only request a full EIS, but also request that public hearings are held in Sandpoint to gather robust public input. You can also comment directly to USCG during their public comment period.
You may be wondering how USACE and IDL fit into all of this. USACE is charged with granting or denying a permit for discharging dredged or fill material into the waters of the U.S. IDL is charged with granting or denying a permit for encroachments, which are anything permanently fixed to the lakebed. These agencies are soliciting public comments that are specific to their regulatory authority. They are not particularly looking for public comment about the broader implications of the project – that’s USCG’s job.
I am by no means discouraging you from submitting comments to these agencies or attending a public hearing held by one or both of them. Please do comment (by March 28th unless there’s an extension)! We most certainly are. If a public hearing is announced, I encourage you to flood the hosting agency with requests for USCG to participate so that all permitting agencies are represented and your comments pertaining to ALL aspects of the project are taken into the record.
With so much information to share and not enough space, please feel free to contact me for additional information on how to get involved. We will post resources, including talking points for comments, for your use at www.lpow.org as soon as they are available.