What is the National Academy of Sciences?
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has been looking into the future of Coeur d’Alene Lake’s water quality at the request of the State of Idaho, as was announced by Jacob Garringer, from Governor Brad Little’s office, in November of 2019 at the Our Gem Coeur d’Alene Lake Symposium. This was spurred due to water quality “triggers” (such as phosphorus) outlined in the 2009 Coeur d’Alene Lake Management Plan being approached or exceeded. These triggers are intended to be an early warning system to protect lake water quality from negative impacts. In response to these triggers trending in the wrong direction, the State of Idaho enlisted the NAS to perform a third-party review of available information to evaluate nutrient and metals trends in the lake and future implications of water quality on human and ecological health. Kootenai County and EPA are co-sponsors of this effort with the state, and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe also supports the review.
So what, exactly, is the NAS? Well, it’s actually part of a larger organization that also includes the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering, collectively referred to as the National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering. They are a nonprofit organization that provides “independent, objective advice to inform policy with evidence, spark progress and innovation, and confront challenging issues for the benefit of society.” The NAS was formed in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln to fill the need for independent advice for the U.S. government. They consist of members that are considered experts and are elected based on achievement and service in their fields. The NAS is governed by a council of their members. For more information, visit https://www.nationalacademies.org/about.
The NAS committee selected to perform the Coeur d’Alene Lake review has had two meeting so far. The last was May 4-6 and resulted in several articles highlighting their discussions. Phosphorus was a prominent topic, and there’s been a lot of talk in the community lately about phosphorus in Coeur d’Alene Lake and the rivers and streams that feed into it. This is a big issue, because it comes from throughout the Coeur d’Alene Basin – all 3,700 square miles of land area that eventually drains into the lake. Anything on the ground in this area can eventually impact the health of Coeur d’Alene Lake, its food web, and the ecosystem that is in balance with this whole cycle. Phosphorus drives how active the food web is, and this ultimately determines how much oxygen is contained in water near the lake bed. Healthy oxygen levels help to contain heavy metals contained in the lake bed sediments, which helps to keep them out of the aquatic environment and away from humans.
So what can we do about this? Phosphorus comes from soil, animal and human waste, and fertilizers, to name just a few sources. Our everyday activities present us with ample opportunity to reduce our phosphorus footprint. Simple things, like disposing of pet waste properly, washing your car on the lawn or at a carwash instead of on pavement, using fertilizers conservatively, and watching what flows into the gutter (and eventually to the lake, river, or aquifer) can make a big difference. It may not seem like much, but if we all do little things every day, it can add up quickly and significantly. It benefits our waterways and all who enjoy them.
The Our Gem Coeur d’Alene Lake Collaborative is a team of committed and passionate professionals working to preserve lake health and protect water quality by promoting community awareness of local water resources through education, outreach and stewardship. They are conducting a survey to assess how to better provide citizens with resources and information about Coeur d’Alene Lake. To take this survey, go to www.uidaho.edu/lakesurvey.