This story was written by the Our Gem Collaborative team for the CDA Press on Sunday, June 7, 2020. Read the original article.
Everywhere you look new houses are going up, highways are full of work zones and lots are being cleared for new business. This construction inevitably changes our community, and it can negatively impact our waterways. If you live near a lake, river, stream or stormwater system — which includes almost everyone — you can take steps to minimize your environmental impact while complying with local regulations.
Construction activities are one of the biggest sources of water pollution. The building process usually requires removing plants or trees, compacting soil, and creating impervious surfaces that prevent precipitation from recharging our aquifer — our area’s principal source of drinking water. Aquifer depletion can also lead to lower lake levels. These activities can negatively affect water quality. When existing vegetation is cleared, bare soil is exposed that can be easily washed into our stormwater systems, lakes, rivers and streams. Excess sediment is a major pollutant that clouds the water, inhibits plants from producing oxygen, smothers fish spawning beds and promotes algae blooms. Sediment is the most common water quality problem in Idaho, and it often contains excess phosphorus and nitrogen — nutrients that can be deadly to the watershed ecosystem.
While construction is necessary to meet the needs of our growing population, there are ways to minimize erosion and keep our water clear and clean. If you plan to build or disturb ground on your property, call your city building services or county development department for guidance through the site disturbance permit process. They may deem your project to be low risk for sedimentation concerns and require nothing. For projects classified as moderate to high risk, a stormwater and erosion control plan must be developed. The site disturbance permit may require adoption of Best Management Practices (BMPs) prior to clearing vegetation. Those who fail to obtain a permit may find a code violation placed on their property. Waterfront property owners have a special responsibility to take care of the waterbody they enjoy and should adhere to the Kootenai County ‘25 Foot Shoreline No Disturbance Zone’. The country provides guidance for property owners, including what to do if you see a violation.
BMPs control, prevent or minimize water pollution from erosion and sedimentation. These may simply preserve as much vegetation as possible with a phased construction schedule. BMPs are designed to minimize erosion, slow runoff and filter sediment. You may recognize erosion control as the green hydroseeding mixture sprayed on hillsides and sediment control as the black fabric silt fencing surrounding job sites. When properly installed and maintained, BMPs limit the amount of sediment leaving a construction zone.
Property owners can use the LakeASyst manual to assess erosion risk on your property. Make sure your contractor has a current Stormwater and Erosion Education Program (SEEP) certification. SEEP is a local organization that educates construction workers and land development industries on the fundamentals of erosion prevention and sediment control practices. Participants take a two-day course involving classroom and field work as well as an exam to earn a certificate.
With construction season underway, these tools and practices will help our community better manage sediment onsite, reduce runoff and limit the impacts of construction on our beautiful lakes and rivers.