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OUR GEM: ARPA Funding, Advisory Groups and Why They Matter

| August 14, 2022 1:00 AM

On June 30, 2022, a press release was sent out outlining a historic initiative concerning water in the State of Idaho. Governor Brad Little, through his Leading Idaho initiative, is providing funding for agriculture, education, and transportation at the state level.

An exciting part of this initiative locally involves Lake Coeur d’Alene. Governor Little allocated $2 million for Lake Coeur d’Alene nutrient reduction projects in 2021. In 2022, an additional $20 million has been allocated to further the effort to reduce phosphorus loading into Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“Water is our most valuable resource, and we absolutely must keep up the infrastructure to ensure water is clean and plentiful for this generation and future ones. That is why we made historic investments in water quality and quantity this year as part of my ‘Leading Idaho’ plan,” Little said.

There are several increasingly strange acronyms needed to know to understand this project. The additional $20 million for this project comes from the ARPA, American Rescue Plan Act, and access to this funding will be filtered by the Coeur d’Alene Lake Advisory Committee (CLAC).

The CLAC will review applications submitted for funding and forward their recommendations for Coeur d’Alene Basin projects to the Panhandle Basin Advisory Group (BAG). The BAG is tasked with advising the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) on water quality priorities related to available economic resources.

What this means is that the BAG provides input to IDEQ to help prioritize projects throughout the panhandle of Idaho that are proposed for funding under a handful of funding programs that are intended to improve surface water quality.

The CLAC, in turn, was established as a sort of subcommittee under the umbrella of the BAG that is focused specifically on projects that target the health of Coeur d’Alene Lake. Together, the CLAC, BAG and DEQ will prioritize projects contributing to the quality and health of our water, specifically the reduction of phosphorus inputs into Lake Coeur d’Alene.

One of the unseen consequences of the historic mining in our area is the ongoing deposition of heavy metals on the bottom of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Many heavy metals have contaminated our water ways such as zinc and lead, but phosphorus levels have continued to rise. Rising phosphorus levels impact how metals in the lakebed sediment behave.

Currently, a layer of oxygen-rich water, which can be thought of as an oxygen “cap” separates the metals deposits from the overlying water column. Increased phosphorus entering our lake from streams, rivers, and runoff from stormwater could cause the oxygen cap to weaken. This could create a domino effect of heavy metals being released into the water column if not controlled.

Funding is available for organizations whose nutrient reduction projects and efforts are specifically related to the removal of phosphorus. A solicitation for applications is open now until Sept. 15 and can be viewed here: www.deq.idaho.gov/coeur-dalene-lake-advisory-committee-notice-of-solicitation. The funding will be spent between now and the end of 2026.

Currently projects selected for funding from the initial $2 million of Leading Idaho funding for Coeur d’Alene Lake consist of stormwater treatment, stabilizing nonpoint sources of phosphorus from eroding soil, and wastewater treatment plant upgrades. Stormwater and wastewater can potentially carry phosphorus, nitrogen, and heavy metals into our waterways if not treated. Nonpoint sources are areas where pollutants are diffused rather than coming from a single distinct source (such as a pipe). A map of current projects can be found on the CLAC page on DEQ’s website at: www.deq.idaho.gov/coeur-dalene-lake-advisory-committee.

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. Our Gem includes local experts from the University of Idaho Community Water Resource Center, Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Coeur d’Alene Regional Chamber of Commerce, and CDA 2030.

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