BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- An environmental group is suing federal water and wildlife agencies, contending that the agencies have long delayed taking the steps needed to protect Idaho's water quality.
Northwest Environmental Advocates, based in Portland, Ore., filed the lawsuit in Boise's U.S. District Court against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday. The environmental group claims that the federal agencies have dragged their feet for 17 years when it comes to requiring Idaho to protect its waters and aquatic species.
The federal government is required to review water quality standards set by the states, and Idaho's Department of Environmental Quality submitted its proposed toxic standards to the Environmental Protection Agency for review in 1994. The Environmental Protection Agency approved them in 1996, but conditioned the approval on the completion of a consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service over whether the standards would have an effect on threatened and endangered species.
The two fish and wildlife agencies found that Idaho's standards for toxic pollutants weren't stringent enough to protect species like salmon, steelhead trout, Kootenai River white sturgeon, bull trout and some kinds of snails. By 2002, the agencies still hadn't reached an agreement with Idaho or the EPA on just what needed to be changed to make the standards acceptable.
"So, instead of doing their job the way Congress intended, they simply threw up their hands and walked away. It's totally irresponsible behavior," said NWEA's executive director Nina Bell in a prepared statement. "... But it's clear that without litigation, Idaho's fish aren't going to get the protection they require for survival."
There's still no schedule or deadline for the agencies to complete their final biological opinions on the matter. Meanwhile, Idaho has been implementing the toxic criteria, according to the lawsuit.
No one was available Monday at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to discuss the lawsuit and the NMFS couldn't immediately comment on the case.
Northwest Environmental Advocates says its members visit, recreate and live near streams, rivers, wetlands and other bodies of water in Idaho. Those members would get more benefits from the water "if pollution were not adversely affecting water quality and species listed as threatened or endangered," the group claims in the lawsuit.