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A gathering summer thunderstorm over the southern end of the Lost River Range. Photo taken from near Craters of the Moon, (July, 1987).

Snake River Plain Aquifer
The Snake River and its aquifer in many ways control the economy of Idaho. Three million acres of farmland on the Snake River Plain are irrigated, with about 1/3 of this from wells and the rest from canals. Idaho has the highest per capita water consumption in the U.S.

At the INEEL, the water table is 200 to 1000 feet below the ground surface. The groundwater flow rate is 5 to 20 feet per day. An injection well, at the Idaho Chemical Processing Plant, was used to dispose of waste water used for cooling nuclear reactors from 1953 to 1984, and there has been surface disposal for thirty years. Leakage from evaporation ponds at the Test Reactor Area (TRA) has produced perched bodies of ground water containing radioactive isotopes above the main aquifer. Disposal of radioactive wastes at the INEEL has not yet harmed the quality of the Snake River aquifer in a major way, but radionuclides have been detected in the aquifer west of the INEEL, having migrated up to 7.5 miles in 20 years.

A more important, but less politically sensitive, threat to the purity of the Snake River Plain aquifer is agricultural runoff including potato processing waste, fertilizer and animal waste. In fact, these agricultural activities have near-sacred cow status among Idaho politicians.

Idaho and Federal Dollars

"On a per-capita basis, Idaho ranked eighth among the forty-eight states in expenditures of the anti-Depression agencies of the New Deal, ranking first in Rural Electrification Administration expenditures (and) second in Civilian Conservation Corps expenditures....

"Accepting the political folklore of the 1930s, one gets the impression that Franklin Roosevelt staged a giant barbecue which supported millions of people and forced the nation irretrievably into debt.... Compared with expenditures of recent years, however, New Deal expenditures were quite modest... the total expenditures in Idaho of all New Deal agencies during the seven years 1933 to 1939 was only $470 per capita, or an average of $67 per person per year."

In 1969, that was "less than half the estimated annual per capita expenditures of the National Reactor Testing Station of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission at Arco." (arrington, 1969, reprinted in Etulain and Marley, 1974, p. 132)

The New Deal per capita expenditure was an order of magnitude (ten times) smaller than the expenditure in 1990 of Department of Energy money for the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory ($800 million dollars for 1 million people, or $800 per capita).

Big Lost River Playas
The area at the mouth of the Little Lost River is a playa or dry lake bed, that fills with water from the Big Lost River during wet years. During wetter times in the Pleistocene, the two Lost Rivers and Birch Creek flowed into pluvial Lake Terreton, centered near modern Mud Lake.

(left) Route of Goodale Cutoff skirting the lava to the north, taken from U.S. Highway 26, west of Craters of the Moon National Monument. The route clung to the north edge of the Snake River Plain, avoiding the lava flows, (June, 1992).

(center) Aerial view looking southwest at Craters of the Moon National Monument. Lobate lava flow at the right flowed northward out of a fissure south of the highway, (July, 1987).

(right) Queen's Crown, a landmark north of Carey, and Silver Creek flowing south from Picabo. View looks southeast. The crown is made of tilted Miocene rhyolite tuff of the Idavada Volcanics, (June, 1995).