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Report Says Groundwater In Southern Idaho Aquifer Is Contaminated

About 300,000 residents in southern Idaho rely on the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer for drinking water.

A new report from the Idaho Conservation League suggests the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer, which provides drinking water for around 300,000 residents across much of southern Idaho, is contaminated.


The report found excessive levels of nitrates in wells sampled in the Magic Valley. Over two-thirds of those studied had nitrate levels above the natural amounts.


Josh Johnson of the ICL says this means human factors are involved. The report points to the growing dairy industry in the Magic Valley.


“That’s in large part due to industrial agriculture and large irrigation fields," he says.

Johnson says the growth of large dairy farms in this area means more waste from cows and more fertilizer on fields. Nutrients like nitrates and phosphorus from both of those can seep into the groundwater and can cause health problems, especially for young infants.


“The problem is that there’s too much being put on the landscape and the extra is what gets into the aquifer," Johnson says.


Rick Naerebout of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association says the report paints the dairy industry as being unregulated, which he calls disingenuous. In fact, he says, dairies are inspected multiple times each year by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture for environmental qualities.


Either way, the report, which is part of the Idaho Conservation League’s efforts to clean up the Snake River, suggests the water quality in the aquifer is declining.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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