Wetland policy upgrade
City of Moscow and University of Idaho working together to get water turned back on for the wetlands
The City of Moscow and the University of Idaho have completed a new draft agreement with regards to shared use and access to the UI Wetlands Research Facility.
City Attorney Randy Fife said the agreement recognizes that UI is the property owner of the wetlands and has an interest in being able to use it as an experimental and educational facility.
Moscow stopped supplying water to the wetlands due to regulatory concerns from the Environmental Protection Agency in the fall of 2010.
“Even though it seems the IDEQ (Idaho Department of Environmental Quality) and the EPA knew about the construction of the wetlands and were in agreement for it, perhaps the technical permitting wasn’t complete,” Fife said.
He said because there isn’t a specific and explicit permit that the city or UI has from the EPA, Moscow stopped providing water to avoid subjection to fines and other regulations.
Fife said the city wants to be compliant.
He said the regulations for the type of water used is reflected through a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. The permit ran out and cannot be amended.
“It’s more complicated than simply amending the permit to allow us to continue putting the water in,” Fife said. “But this is just one step. First thing is we need to make sure that the wetlands will be there and everyone understands how we’re going to use them and then we’re going to approach the EPA to see how we’re going to put water back into the wetlands.”
The university-owned wetlands consist of eight acres of land near the Idaho/Washington border, and were constructed by the Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute in 1996.
PCEI Executive Director Thomas Lamar said the IDEQ funded PCEI from funding generated from the Clean Water Act.
Lamar said they built the land with the support and encouragement of Moscow and UI. The money was used to excavate and construct the land. He said they also convinced UI around 1997 to discontinue farm operations before the wetlands were constructed. PCEI then turned over the management of the wetlands to UI.
Lamar said since 1997 they have encouraged UI and Moscow to continue to use the wetlands and keep everything functional.
He said the role of PCEI has changed overtime.
“We’ve been functioning as an encouraging force to continue to help make it work,” Lamar said. “Rather than spending thousands of hours of work time as we did in the first couple of years, now we’re just the encouraging force to continue to make it function. It’s a different role, but it’s still an important one.”
City Director of Public Works Les Macdonald has done work with sewer operations within the city, including the wastewater treatment plant located near the wetlands.
“We would like to consider a pilot testing of the wetlands capability to treat for temperature and we would like to lower the temperature of our effluent, potentially,” Macdonald said.
He said this could help make the decision of where the treatment plant goes for future upgrades.
About six years ago, UI Environmental Science Program Adviser Chris Dixon got involved with Women in Science to make the wetlands a UI research site.
Dixon said they have planted about 3,000 native plants, built an observation deck, put up bird boxes and took down a barbed-wire fence that went around it. He said there is still more work to be done.
“We take a lot of classes out there, such as the Environmental Science 102 class and the Ornithology classes,” Dixon said. “It’s no longer Women in Science, now it is called Environmental Revitalization. We try to use it for educational purposes.”
Dixon said the wastewater treatment plant’s problem is the water is too warm.
UI has approved the draft agreement, which the city is supposed to approve next week to turn the water on. Afterward, it will go to the EPA for final approval.
Aaron Wolfe can be reached at arg-news.uidaho.edu