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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…

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