By Jim Stanford on February 13, 2012
This is what happens when you build a fertilizer mine on the bank of a stream.
Cory Hatch of the News&Guide has been pressing executives from agribusiness giant Simplot as they have given tortured denials, first of the photo’s existence and then the impacts of polluting two creeks that flow into the Salt River and ultimately the Snake at Palisades Reservoir.
Remarkably, the photo is from a report Simplot commissioned in which it argues it should be allowed to release higher levels of selenium from its Smoky Canyon Mine on national forest lands west of Afton into Sage and Crow creeks.
On Jan. 30, the company submitted a request to reduce water quality standards to the state of Idaho, whose governor, Butch Otter, worked for Simplot for 30 years. Fortunately, Marv Hoyt of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition has been keeping a close eye on the situation and sharing his findings with Hatch.
Think of this fish the next time you bite into McDonald’s french fries.
Selenium is a byproduct from the mining of phosphate, which the company uses with ample quantities of river water to grow potatoes in the desert of southern Idaho. Simplot also is one of the country’s largest fertilizer producers. Selenium leaches into springs at the mine and runs off with rain and melting snow.
To clarify, the two-headed trout was hatched in a laboratory as part of Simplot research, the offspring of fish poisoned by selenium in the creeks, GYC’s Hoyt said in an interview. Such a deformed fish would be difficult to collect and likely wouldn’t survive long in the wild.
Deformities number in the hundreds or thousands, Hoyt said. Four or five batches of eggs were so contaminated that no fish hatched, he said.
The next step is for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to analyze Simplot’s proposal. The Idaho Legislature likely will take it up next year.
It’s hard to overstate the harmful effects of agribusiness on the Snake River and its tributaries in Idaho. I once met a couple of kids from Blackfoot at a lake in Grand Teton National Park, and when I asked them if they had any good swimming holes in the Snake nearby, they shook their heads. “You get sores if you go in the water because of the potato plant,” one explained.