On The Lake: Remember the most polluted site in Sandpoint? It’s still a thing

By Shannon Williamson
Reader Columnist

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air! More importantly, pentachlorophenol is still flowing into Sand Creek, and we think that sucks. I don’t mean to be overly harsh, but this is important. The recap is coming, but please see the 9/7/17 edition of the Reader for the full backstory.

Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper Chantilly Higbee collects a stormwater sample from the Chestnut Drainage outfall that flows into Sand Creek. Courtesy image.

PCP is classified as a probable human carcinogen and is associated with renal and neurological effects. It’s not a substance that you would want to voluntarily connect with. It’s also one of the groundwater contaminants originating from the Joslyn property north of Super One on the west side of Boyer, which is where wood preservation operations were formally conducted. 

As many of you know, the soils in Sandpoint are full of clay and don’t drain worth anything. This means that our groundwater mingles with our surface water on a regular basis, and any groundwater contaminants are free to flow during precipitation events. The Joslyn property is chock full of groundwater contaminants and in this case, PCP is mixing with surface stormwater and running directly into Sand Creek. 

When we first started testing the stormwater that enters Sand Creek a few years ago, we had no idea what to expect. Our discovery of PCP was troubling to say the least. As you know, Sand Creek is a popular destination for boaters, kayakers, paddle boarders and yes – swimmers. Having a probable carcinogen flowing into Sand Creek on the regular is frankly unacceptable.

With continued monitoring, we’ve noticed that the concentrations of PCP in stormwater are increasing. Our earliest test indicated a relatively minor amount of PCP at 0.84 micrograms per liter. Our most recent monitoring results really set off alarm bells. Lab tests indicated a whopping 21.1 micrograms per liter of PCP. That level exceeds Idaho’s chronic and acute water quality criteria to protect aquatic life. 

In our opinion, any detectable level of PCP is problematic, but we’ve entered new territory. We are mission-bound to address this problem and that is exactly what we intend to do. We are here to make sure your local waterways are swimmable, fishable and drinkable.

Aerial map of the Chestnut Drainage showing the Joslyn Property, the location of stormwater catch basins and the location of the outfall to Sand Creek.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is charged with enforcing the cleanup of the Joslyn Manufacturing Company’s polluted property, and I don’t envy them. There have been some efforts at remediation, such as the installation of an “asphalt cap,” which is apparently lackluster in its ability to prevent pollutant transfer between groundwater and surface water. We would like to see more robust remediation strategies implemented sooner rather than later, but it’s a complex process.  

We’ve shared our data with DEQ, but for them to use information from a third party, we must collect data under a Quality Assurance Project Plan. That’s cool because we’ve done this before for a different project. However, this is going to be financially painful. Without going into all the details, this requirement will basically triple the costs of monitoring for PCP in Sand Creek. Ouch. We are a nonprofit trying to serve the public — we’re not flush with cash. Yet we need to keep testing to determine if the problem is improving, getting worse or staying the same. This information is critical to the health of Sand Creek and everything that calls it home. The fish, the birds, the otters, the plankton, the bottom dwellers – YOU!

We need your help. We need to triple the amount of dollars going into monitoring the stormwater that is coming off this site and surrounding areas and dumping into Sand Creek. We are completely ready to up our quality-assurance game, but we can’t do it alone. It was already expensive at $325 per sample event. We now need to devote $975 per sample event with the addition of quality control samples. Please help us keep Sand Creek swimmable, fishable and drinkable. This is your home, your community and your water. Please help us by donating today at www.lpow.org. Feel free to drop by our office at the corner of 1st Avenue and Cedar Street or give us a call at 208-597-7188 with your questions or comments. We would love to hear from you!

Shannon Williamson is the executive director of Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper and president of Sandpoint City Council.

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