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|Thursday, 18 December, 2014|
By LORI EDMO-SUPPAH
FORT HALL — Rebecca Ellsworth and Sheryl Slim are two Shoshone-Bannock tribal members conducting a Fish Consumption Survey that will help the Tribes to define water quality standards.
Incentives are provided to those who participate and both Ellsworth and Slim encourage those asked to complete the survey, to please do so because the data is needed to develop a fish consumption rate that may be used in the development of Shoshone-Bannock water quality standards. The data will also be used to develop fish consumption rate information that can be used to inform the State of Idaho’s Water Quality Standards process.
The Tribes have committed to getting 600 initial surveys completed, along with 300 follow up surveys from the initial 600.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is funding the initiative. Pacific Market Research is conducting the survey with the support of the Fort Hall Business Council. Prospective participants are selected anonymously from the tribal membership rolls in a 50-mile radius of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation using guidelines from the National Cancer Institute. Participants are asked about their food consumption over two, 24-hour periods.
Both surveyors emphasize the importance and although they’re had some success, they have their share of frustration too. For example, people that are picked to be surveyed make excuses on why they can’t or else they won’t open the door.
However, some tribal members specifically elders have shared stories about the significance of fishing, how things used to be in their younger days and cultural teachings.
Slim said they’ve learned a lot especially how fish is sustenance to feed their families. Some who complete the survey are very knowledgeable about Treaty rights and some fish year round and know where to fish on the Fort Hall Bottoms to avoid contaminated fish.
Ellsworth said lack of participation may be because they are having a hard time tracking people down. Some of the people selected for the survey may live off the reservation or in the instance of young people, may be living with various family members. Some of the telephone numbers provided are disconnected or addresses may be invalid.
Both encourage tribal members to give updated addresses and telephone numbers to the Tribal Enrollment department.
They emphasize those who are selected are random.
Tribal Fish and Wildlife Director Chad Colter stresses the importance of participation in the survey. “If we do not set the baseline for consumption of fish then the state will,” adding in the agriculture culture Idaho is based upon, water quality will lose out and the state will continue to suppress Treaty rights through additional contamination of Idaho waters resulting in depletion of fish for our high end consumers.
Colter said the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality initiated a yearlong statewide study to estimate fish consumption rates among Idaho residents but the EPA disapproved Idaho’s current criteria because they couldn’t determine the fish consumption rate criteria were representative of all Idahoans.
According to DEQ’s web site 36 percent of Idaho waters do not meet current water quality standards (including Blackfoot, Snake and Portneuf rivers.)
“Idaho tribes seek to set the appropriate base line of consumption by tribal members and have initiated our own Tribal member Fish Consumption Survey to ensure our high end consumers and reserved Treaty rights are protected by state and tribal criteria,” he said.
The study objectives are to develop a fish consumption rate that may be used in the development of the Shoshone-Bannock Water Quality Standards (to protect tribal members that consume fish from within the reservation. It will also develop fish consumption rate information that can be used to inform the State of Idaho’s Water Quality Standards process. Idaho is currently revising their Human Health Criteria that is partially based on the fish consumption rate of the public.
Ellsworth and Slim say it’s a privilege to be a Shoshone-Bannock tribal member and protecting the Treaty rights by completing the surveys when called upon is important. The Tribes have until May 2015 to complete them. Tribal member Vera Honena is also conducting surveys.
BOISE (AP) — A government study of selenium pollution in a southeastern Idaho watershed where hundreds of grazing animals have died has found that the toxin is likely moving through groundwater.
The 11-year study on the Upper Blackfoot River Watershed was released earlier this month by the U.S. Geological Survey. It found that selenium levels spiked in the river during spring thaw and exceeded healthy limits for aquatic species.
Selenium is an essential nutrient, but it can be toxic in larger quantities.
“That's where the Blackfoot is at,'' said Chris Mebane, a water quality specialist with the USGS and one of the study's authors. “It's over that threshold of concern.''
The upper watershed has 12 phosphate mines, four of them active, and four more mines are being considered. Phosphate ore is used in farm-based fertilizers and other products.
Waste rock from the mines contains selenium that has been blamed for killing livestock and harming trout populations in some area streams. The watershed is a key area for Yellowstone cutthroat trout and wildlife, and it's also a popular recreation area for humans.
Researchers discovered the inactive Maybe Canyon Mine to be contributing the most selenium during the study, which concluded in 2012. An upward selenium trend in fall months couldn't be explained by measurements in tributaries. That, Mebane said, means selenium is entering the upper Blackfoot through groundwater and could mean years of contamination.
“It could be decades or even centuries,'' he said.
Phosphate mining in the area just southwest of Yellowstone National Park started by 1920. Selenium contamination first attained recognition as a problem in the area, the USGS report said, in 1996 when the deaths of some 700 sheep, cattle and horses started occurring.
The most recent livestock losses happened in October 2012 when 95 sheep grazed at a re-vegetated inactive mine site. Elk and deer, the report said, appear to be more tolerant of elevated selenium.
“The plants get it — the roots pick up moisture from the soil,'' Mebane said.
The mines' owners are J.R. Simplot Co., Monsanto Co. and Agrium Inc. The mines are located on lands administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, the state of Idaho, and the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. There is also private land.
Twelve sites in the upper watershed are under Superfund authorities for cleanup. The USGS study, conducted with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, provides insights on results of remediation efforts.
“I think the overall data set would suggest that we haven't started to successfully manage our selenium source yet,'' said Lynn Van Every, a water quality manager with the Idaho agency and a co-author of the study.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists two segments of the Blackfoot River and 15 tributary segments as impaired. If the watershed consistently fails to meet safe standards, opening new phosphate mines could be more difficult.
“The expectation for mitigation and control and better engineering (of mines), those expectations will remain very high,'' said Dave Tomten, a Boise-based geologist with the EPA whose duties include compliance and enforcement.
Simplot has been working to reduce selenium discharge from one its mines in the watershed by capping waste rock.
“This cover and new drainage systems are expected to significantly reduce the potential for selenium releases from this overburden area,'' company spokesman Ken Dey said in an email to The Associated Press.
The most recent mine in the watershed, the Blackfoot Bridge, is run by Monsanto, maker of Roundup weed killer. Authorities said it's designed to avoid selenium problems of the kind attributed to older mines.
The Blackfoot Bridge mine had a setback in early 2013 when an earthen holding pond sprung a leak, sending sediment and millions of gallons of water into an adjacent wetland. Testing showed it was free of contaminants.
“The good news is that the new mines that have come on line, these are a lot tighter operating than what happened back in the 70s and 80s,'' Mebane said. “The proof will be when we come back and look in a few years.''
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