As summer kicks off, the age-old debate on whether the Portneuf River is clean enough to swim in resurfaces. Next month, the city will be holding its first community float down the river in Pocatello.
It looks brown and a bit cloudy, and not many people swim in it. However, recent data put out by the Department of Environmental Quality suggest that it is safe to swim in, but only in certain areas.
“There are some people that are super excited to get in the water and then there’s another group that doesn’t think that’s a good idea,” said Jenna Dohman, environmental technician for the City of Pocatello.
The Portneuf River has gained a bad rep over the years for being dirty and containing high levels of bacteria. However, Dohman and the Department of Environmental Quality says it is much cleaner than it used to be.
“It’s below the total maximum daily load, levels that are safe,” Dohman said. “So, we can swim, we can recreate in it and that’s what we are encouraging people to do.”
The DEQ tests the river monthly, and their report is available online. However, there are places where there is a spike in bacteria.
“As we’ve been monitoring this, above the concrete channel it’s within safe levels but when you get to the concrete channel, there’s a spike,” Dohman said.
Researchers believe that dog waste, bird droppings and agriculture near city creek are the primary causes. But, over the years, the river cleanup initiative has led to a decrease in such problems, making the water clean enough to swim in.
Easier public access to the river will also allow more people to enjoy the river. Jennifer Zung, a contractor for Harmony Design, is working with the city to build more points of entry to the river.
“I think the overall goal and hope is that people will see the river as an amenity and reactivate the river… that includes wetlands reclamation projects and construction and river access,” Zung said.
And so far, many seem to be on board.
“Any improvement would be good, but if they can clean up the river and make it accessible, it’s always an improvement for the town,” local resident Berry Endo said.
The float organizers are still working out the details where the float will begin and end. However, they’re hoping for it to start at Taysom Rotary Park and end at Centennial Park. It will happen from to 8 p.m. July 18.