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Idaho Power to pay more than $1 million over unpermitted pollution at 15 hydroelectric dams

The grey cement sign with the Idaho Power logo, the words Idaho Power and the address. There is a brick sidewalk in front of the sign and a multi-level building behind it.
Matt Guilhem
Boise State Public Radio

Idaho Power will pay more than a million dollars in fines under a proposed settlement with Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality over unpermitted pollution at 15 hydroelectric facilities in southern Idaho.

Last winter, Idaho Power self-reported to DEQ pollution violations at multiple dams along the snake river and its tributaries. The sites are named in court documents filed in several Idaho Counties on April 7: American Falls, Bliss, Cascade, C.J. Strike, Clear Lake, Upper and Lower Malad, Milner, Lower Salmon Falls, Upper Salmon Falls A and B, Shoshone Falls, Swan Falls, Thousand Springs and Twin Falls dams.

The court filings of a lawsuit over the pollution were filed at the same time as the proposed settlement.

“Idaho Power has done what they believe to be the most responsible thing by bringing this to the agency's attention,said Mary Anne Nelson, DEQ Surface and Wastewater Division Administrator.

Nelson says the pollution is related to oil and grease in power plant turbines, and fluctuations in water temperature and pH.

“The overall impact, I don't believe, has been a major concern,” she said.

But the pollution needs to be regulated. That’s an updated interpretation of a decades-old court ruling Nelson says resulted in Idaho Power letting its discharge permits expire in the mid-1990s.

“The interpretation of that federal case led both Idaho Power and EPA to conclude that the facilities no longer needed permit coverage,” she said.

DEQ wants the public to weigh in on the settlement, which was mutually agreed to by both parties. It requires new water monitoring, appropriate permitting, and a fine of more than $72,870 per facility. Public comment will be accepted through May 9.

Idaho Power said the unpermitted pollution in southern Idaho is unrelated to an ongoing lawsuit the utility faces over the same issue at Brownlee Dam.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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