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For steelhead, dirty water might be better than clean
By Amanda Peacher
Published in High Country News, June 27, 2011
The West Fork Little Bear Creek in northern Idaho winds through sloping hills and Palouse Prairie farmland on its way to the Potlatch River. The cool, shaded stream seems like typical steelhead habitat. But just above a narrow basalt canyon sits a wastewater treatment plant, which handles 110,000 gallons of sewage and other municipal waste from the town of Troy each day. The treated water — still loaded with ammonium and phosphorus — is discharged into the creek. As a result, its downstream water quality falls below certain state and federal standards; some pollutants have been found at levels the Environmental Protection Agency considers toxic for fish. And yet wild steelhead are thriving in the substandard water. The creek has the highest density of juvenile steelhead of any surveyed habitat in the entire Potlatch River watershed, where wild steelhead are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Read more…
Elmer Crow waits patiently while a crowd of fifth-graders settles on the lawn outside the Morrison Knudson Nature Center in Boise, Idaho. One by one, the students stop squirming as they realize that the Nez Perce elder is watching them, hands folded behind his back. Crow’s face is solemn but his eyes are playful. The students stare up at him expectantly.
“Am I supposed to do something?” he says finally, pokerfaced. The kids sit frozen. Crow puts his hands on his waist and grins, wiggling his hips in a little dance. “How about that?” he says, pausing for effect. The students erupt in giggles. Crow laughs, too, his leathery wrinkles deepening.
Then he reaches into a canvas bag and dramatically produces the star of the show: a three-foot-long brown rubber lamprey. The students respond to the snake-like fish with squeals of disgust.