Posts Tagged ‘Lake Pend Oreille’

KEA is surrounded by great Waterkeeper activism, and we are partners with keepers in a lot of clean water efforts in North Idaho and the Spokane River. In an email we received yesterday, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, our water quality neighbors to the north, announced the appointment of a new waterkeeper, replacing founding keeper Jennifer Ekstrom who is moving on to new adventures.

Shannon Williamson takes over as the new Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper next week.  Shannon is a high-powered PhD marine scientist and professor who has authored or co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles and several chapters in graduate-level textbooks.  We’re really looking forward to working with her.




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Led by Kootenai Environmental Alliance, regional conservation groups filed comments June 10th with the Idaho Water Resources Board on the draft Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan for our local Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.   According to the comments, the plan is “not specific enough, not enforceable enough, and doesn’t go far enough to properly protect the aquifer resources.” The comments expressed concern that the plan would prove to be insufficient to protect the aquifer over the plan’s long-term planning horizon.  KEA was joined by Spokane Riverkeeper, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper and the Lands Council in comments to the Water Board.

The Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer is the sole source of drinking water to more than a half-million people in the corridor from Coeur d’Alene to Spokane.  A unique and valuable resource, it is a plentiful water supply but it is not infinite. Pressures on the resource are already being felt as cool clean water from the aquifer returns to the Spokane River in ever-decreasing amounts.

The draft CAMP, under development for a year by an advisory committee appointed by the Water Board, has express goals to:  (1) Provide reliable sources of water, projecting 50 years in to the future, (2) Develop strategies to avoid conflicts over water resources, (3) Prioritize future state investments in water, and (4) Bridge the gaps between future water needs and supply.  The conservation community’s comments agreed with the goals, but were critical of the CAMP’s lack of specifics in meeting these goals.

The comments (available here) criticized the draft CAMP’s lack of specific measures for water conservation, lack of specific language limiting water exports from the aquifer to other basins, and lack of specific language about water quality protections of our sole-source aquifer.

In addition, the comments were sharply critical of the CAMP’s blithe acceptance of “artificial recharge” as a potential solution to demand pressures on the aquifer. A proposal to recharge the aquifer with Lake Pend Oreille water using a $90 million pipeline and injection scheme has already been floated.  The conservationists commented:

Artificial recharge projects should not be a substitute for proper aquifer management, development regulations, and water conservation programs and requirements. Again, we believe, at the very least, the CAMP should be specific about circumstances, triggers, standards, legalities, and limitations for such projects. The CAMP should make it clear that major artificial recharge projects should be a last resort, and should be considered only as a temporary, emergency, short-term solution after all other efforts have failed.

The CAMP advisory group meets in Coeur d’Alene this week to review and consider comments.


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We got word on Thursday that the Washington Department of Ecology was releasing a new study, purporting to prove the feasibility of a scheme to recharge the critical Rathdrum Prairie aquifer with water from Lake Pend Oreille. The aquifer is the sole source of drinking water for about 600,000 people.

The report, called the “Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer* Optimized Recharge for Summer Flow Augmentation of the Columbia River,” was prepared for the Washington Department of Ecology by the state of Washington Water Research Center at Washington State University. According to the Ecology press release announcing the report, the study was part of an effort

“to ensure adequate water supplies in the SVRP aquifer and in the Spokane River in the face of population growth, ever-increasing groundwater pumping and expected effects of climate change.  Large amounts of aquifer pumping have already decreased summer low flows in the Spokane River.”

The report suggests that it is feasible to pump water from Lake Pend Oreille, send it through a pipeline to a location near Garwood, and inject the water back into the aquifer. The report estimates it would cost $90 million to construct the system and $12 – 14 million each year thereafter to operate it.

Ecology notes that having the technical feasibility study done does not mean this project would move forward. The press release quotes the Ecology staffer John Covert: “Knowing that it could be done doesn’t mean that it should or will be done. This report simply gives us the technical information so that we can start a regional conversation about how to make up for the effects of groundwater withdrawals on the Spokane River during the critical, summer low-flow months.”

We absolutely understand that the Spokane River in Washington has a very serious problem with low flows in summertime. The low flows threaten habitat and recreation and they are a compounding problem for the difficult pollution problems in the river.

We suppose we should thank the State of Washington for their concern and their out-of-the-box thinking.  But we’re still extremely skeptical of this very expensive solution using Idaho’s water resources.

In fact, because Washington has so conveniently studied the Idaho-based solution to the Spokane River problem, maybe it’s time that Idaho studies a Washington-based solution. Perhaps the Idaho Water Resources Board (IWRB) could perform a study of Washington’s approaches to conserving the resource on their side of the border. For example, an Idaho report on the failings of Spokane’s water allocations and conservation efforts might result in an alternate approach to pumping Lake Pend Oreille for all eternity.

Indeed, the IWRB is holding a hearing this week on a draft of a Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan for the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. Maybe we’ll suggest it in our comments.

*Did you notice that Washington has its own name for the aquifer on its side of the state line? Renaming Lake Pend Oreille was NOT addressed in the study. 

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This posting courtesy of KEA staffer Julie Vanmiddlesworth:

 The 9th annual Lakes Conference held last Saturday at Spokane Community College revealed that many of Idaho and Washington’s lakes are plagued by common problems. Invasive species and high nutrient levels are degrading the waters of many of our beloved lakes.

 Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper advocated for a wider approach to Milfoil control in Lake Pend Oreille, which has been limited mainly to the application of herbicides. Considering the limited success of herbicide application in Liberty Lake and Lake Pend Oreille, it seems that innovative, dynamic solutions such as altering lake levels to expose infested areas during cold winter months, hand harvesting, bottom barriers, nutrient reduction and isolated mass removal should play a larger role in the fight to control milfoil.

 Hayden Lake is also in deep trouble. “The Hayden lake Project”, a documentary video produced by United Citizens for Responsible Growth, Inc. documents the impacts from elevated phosphorous levels in the Lake. Logging, development, unmaintained septic systems, overuse of our water resources, motorized boat traffic, ashes from campfires and forest fires, dishwashing detergent and fertilizer all contribute to the phosphorous load. Algae blooms, swimmer’s itch and degraded fisheries are a result. The documentary was well received, although many of the conference participants know these problems all too well.

 Can we refine our choices and consume less? Less land, less timber, purchase phosphate-free dishwashing detergent and fertilizer…. we may end up with pea green soup rather than clear, blue lakes if we do not.

 “The Hayden Lake Project” will be screened this Thursday at the regular noon meeting at the Iron Horse. DVDs can be purchased at the Kootenai Environmental Alliance office for a mere $15.00.

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