Dozens of water quality projects before CDA lake committee

by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports

An Idaho Department of Environmental Quality scientist gathers plant material from Lake Coeur d’Alene for water quality testing in 2017.
Screen grab from Idaho Science Journal.

A group of Kootenai County stakeholders met Wednesday to review dozens of projects meant to protect the long-term health of Lake Coeur d’Alene. 

The Coeur d’Alene Lake Advisory Committee is charged with prioritizing $2 million of funding intended to decrease phosphorus loads in the lake. 

Increased levels of phosphorus can lead to toxic algae blooms, which could in turn release toxic metals currently trapped in the lakebed sediment from historic mining waste. 

At the Department of Environmental Quality Regional Office in Coeur d’Alene, the committee began narrowing down the list of 40 projects that are eligible for funding. 

The applications were grouped into a few general categories: point sources of wastewater and stormwater, nonpoint sources along creeks and shorelines, and research or pilots of specific technologies. 

It was emphasised several times at the meeting that this grant program is only a small part of protecting the future health of the lake. 

“No one project is going to be the big silver bullet,” DEQ Regional Administrator Dan McCracken said. 

The group received 29 applications in total, some of which included multiple projects. Applications from the cities of Coeur d’Alene and Kellogg, for example, each included several stormwater outfall improvements which will be considered separately.

The funding is specifically for shovel-ready projects that can be implemented in the next year or two to reduce phosphorus inflow to the lake. A few applications were marked as ineligible because they were for education or monitoring efforts rather than for direct phosphorus reduction.

The committee reviewed the many criteria that DEQ used to evaluate the applications, narrowing the list to just over 20 projects they will consider at the next meeting. They also chose not to include the research category on that list, as they believed it would take a longer timeline to fully realize the potential of those projects. 

All of the projects together total around $24 to 36 million, DEQ estimates, which is far greater than the $2 million before the committee. However, staff assured them this isn’t the end of the line for the applications that are not selected.

“These projects are not forgotten,” asserted DEQ Surface Water Manager Bob Steed. 

DEQ oversees and administers a large number of water quality programs, and staff will work with the rest of the applicants to connect them with other available funding sources.

CLAC members will spend the next several weeks reviewing the applications on their own time. A project that didn’t meet the criteria thresholds set on Wednesday could still be considered if a member brings it up at the next meeting. 

The full committee will reconvene on Nov. 17 to rank the projects for funding priority. 

CLAC is part of Governor Little’s “Building Idaho’s Future” initiative to invest part of the state’s record-breaking budget surplus in long-term infrastructure investments. The $2 million was allocated to DEQ in this year’s Senate Bill 1188.

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