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Posts Tagged ‘Spokane River’

“Take all the acronyms, the scientific formulas, the political agendas at cross purposes and the bitter cross-state line disputes. Flush it all down the toilet.”

Or so the ever-helpful CDA Press editorialized this past Sunday.  The paper is evidently calling for some sort of misguided citizen uprising against yet-to-be-determined sewage rate increases caused by yet-to-be-permitted sewage treatment upgrades. Wildly missing the mark though, the CDA Press does the region no favors.

In fact, some 13 years into an impossibly complicated process, the polluted Spokane River and particularly he green-slimed and oxygen-starved Long Lake finally have a reasonable cleanup plan that requires significant pollution reductions to all the dischargers on the River, including Idaho’s. Despite the editorial’s unfounded and hyperbolic claims, Idaho municipalities discharging onto the River are already committed and are hard at work designing and testing improved sewage treatment technologies.

Indeed, the reality ignored by the CDA Press is that there is no circumstance under which any of the dischargers in the Spokane River will be avoiding additional levels of sewage treatment. These improvements to wastewater infrastructure are being implemented on both sides of the state line. The actual discharge limit that will be written into Idaho permits is still a hard-fought and complicated question, but there is universal agreement that whatever the limit is, it will be much much lower than it is now.

In fact, the Washington Department of Ecology has been open to innovative ways to accommodate polluters on both sides of the border. Enabling concepts like bubble permits, seasonal averaging, pollution and pollutant trading, and bioavailability adjustments, the regulators are bending over backwards for pollution dischargers.

Most significantly, the sewer rates aren’t set yet. In fact, the City of Coeur d’Alene has appointed an advisory committee to review how the sewer rates and necessary infrastructure investments will be phased and financed. Rates will certainly be going up, but how much and how fast are still very much open questions.

These investments are certainly not easy. And they are unquestionably going to be expensive. But it’s the right thing to do for our river if we are going to continue to use it to dispose of our sewage. The hyperbole and nonsense being spewed by the CDA Press is not helpful.

 

 

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Always busy at KEA, it seems even busier lately.  Some things going on that we care about:

The megaloads controversy remains as muddled as ever. Idaho has given a go-ahead to trips up Highway 95 from Lewiston, through Moscow and Coeur d’Alene, and then along I-90 through Montana to Canada’s tar sands.  Two were permitted, but only one smaller load has traveled through town. The permit for the second, larger one has expired, but ITD has indicated a willingness to issue permits on demand and could come any time. Meanwhile, a Montana court has halted trips along the Highway 12 corridor due to a failure to do a proper environmental analysis. That case is likely to be appealed by the oil companies.  And finally, as a reminder that highway transport is not without accidents, there’s a huge roll of toilet paper sitting in the Lochsa River at the moment. – Missoulian

We knew it was going to be a problem, and sure enough, the Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy have filed a lawsuit over PCB pollution in the Spokane River. According to the lawsuit, the Washington Department of Ecology is violating the law by failing to prepare a plan for cleaning up PCBs in the River. – Spokane Riverkeeper at Center for Justice

The debt ceiling debate may be getting all the attention in Washington DC, but Congress is still causing environmental mischief.  Perhaps having learned a lesson in allowing environmental riders in the continuing resolution battle months ago, the administration has recently issued several clear veto threats on anti-environmental bills and budget riders. — The Wildlife News

Finally, we’re still very much Woodsy the Owl aficionados, and we came across this lament recently. Has Smokey the Bear completely overtaken Woodsy as the charismatic mega-mascot for conservation?  Give a hoot. Environmental Law Prof Blog

 

 

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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 an email a couple of weeks ago from a resident in Post Falls concerned about a pair of suddenly homeless and increasingly desperate osprey. As the all-purpose conservation organization in North Idaho, and friend to animals big and small, could we help?

We set out on twitter (and the telephone), and according to an Avista representative, it seems this particular migrating osprey pair had come into their homelessness through some unfortunate housing choices. The pair had originally settled, like many osprey in our area, on a long-abandoned piling in the Spokane River.  However, almost all of the river pilings were removed this past year.

Forced to find a new home near the water, the pair of osprey chose the top of an Avista power pole along Spokane Street. Here’s what our correspondent said about the sad scene:

Last Thursday, unfortunately, the pole caught fire because of the nest filling with water then arcing across the wires.  The top of the pole broke off sending the nest to the ground.  Luckily, the pair had just returned so there were no eggs in the nest.  The pair also survived.  Avista fixed the pole but has not placed a new platform on the pole.  The osprey pair are still here.  She sits on the pole and he circles above. 

Avista confirmed to us that the pole had a nest box, but the osprey’s poor housekeeping habits turned the nest into a fire hazard – causing a fire on the pole. Twice.  In fact, the second fire caused a brief power outage for much of Post Falls. This sort of osprey-related pole fire is not unheard of, but nevertheless, Avista decided that this particular pair could no longer nest on this particular pole.

Still, the nice people at Avista, who do this sort of thing all the time, were perfectly agreeable to replacing the nest on a nearby tree, but they had difficulty gaining approval from a troublesome landowner. Avista also thought another tree, on property owned by the Post Falls Highway District might work, but it had similar access problems.

Well, today we’re pleased that our correspondent has confirmed that a brand new nest is in the Highway District’s tree, and the osprey have taken up residence already:

Good news!

Avista was out on Friday and put a platform on the tree that sits in the Post Falls Highway District’s jurisdiction.  I’m not sure how they accessed it but it’s done and our osprey have already made their home there.  They had been flying around for the last 4 weeks very unhappy about not having a nest in the same area as the previous one.  I don’t know if it is too late now for them to lay eggs and raise chicks but at least they will have a place to return to next year.

So thanks to Avista and our sharp-eyed correspondent, all is well.

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We sent a version of this post to our friends and members earlier this week, and we thought we’d share our thoughts on 2010 here as well. We’ve had a pretty good year at KEA.

As this end-of-year letter is being written, the Kootenai County Commissioners are finally completing work on the long-awaited comprehensive plan. As you know, KEA has been involved at every step of the way. Although the final product is not all that we would have liked it to be, the new plan is still a vast improvement over the hopelessly out-of-date version currently in effect. KEA’s friends and members can take credit for most of the improvements within the new plan, and for fending off attempts to derail those improvements by developers, builders and misguided business interests.

In other 2010 accomplishments, KEA’s Community Roots program started up Kootenai County’s first, and only, charitable CSA in Dalton Gardens, making CSA fresh produce accessible to food stamp recipients. Meanwhile, the Roots program also maintained our plot at the Shared Harvest community garden and continued our fresh food deliveries to food assistance facilities in Coeur d’Alene.
KEA continues to comment on U.S. Forest Service proposals in the region, and was successful this past summer in pressuring the local USFS office to release overdue monitoring reports. We continue to be engaged in very preliminary collaborative conversations about forest management throughout the Panhandle, and we increased our coalition and coordination efforts with fellow conservationists and forest activists throughout the region.

In the past year, KEA spent a great deal of time and effort on difficult and controversial water quality concerns. With our partnership with the Environmental Law Clinic at Gonzaga Law School, KEA was successful in forcing the Federal Highway Administration to correct serious deficiencies in its Fernan Lake Road reconstruction project. KEA also provided substantial comments into the Spokane River cleanup process and EPA’s proposed cleanup for the Upper Coeur d’Alene Basin.

We know that the most successful strategy for environmental protection is a well-educated community. This is why KEA has worked hard to improve our communications and outreach efforts.  We have utilized social media to extend our reach to a wider audience than ever before via Facebook, Twitter and this KEA blog and we continue our work to improve our newsletters, e-news, and website.  Also, our 38th year of noon meetings at the Iron Horse may have been our best so far.

In October, our Second Annual Junk2Funk Eco-Fashion Show bigger, better, and more successful than the previous year. With more than 35 artists participating in this chic eco-fashion event, our annual event has made environmental/conservation awareness positively fun.

Looking ahead to 2011, we expect to make more progress, and new progress. This spring and summer, look for KEA to begin a new phase of our Hayden Lake Project with some demonstration projects in collaboration with local schools.

Look to KEA to gain greater protections for beloved Cougar Bay. And look to KEA to lead the efforts to re-write the zoning and development regulations in Kootenai County to protect natural and scenic resources, maintain rural areas, stop sprawl, and protect our quality of life.

If you’ve heard me speak about KEA, you’ve probably heard me say it it before, the most important prerequisite for environmental protection in our region is a healthy KEA. The strength, breadth and commitment of our grassroots members and supporters are what gives us influence and power to do the critical conservation work that none of us can do alone.


Please consider an end of year contribution. If you’re not a member, consider joining. If you are a member, consider an additional contribution. If you’re a contributor, consider contributing a little extra this year. We know that this economy is tough and your household finances are stretched thin. At the same time, the threats to our environment and quality of life remain, while KEA’s already-tight budget is projected to be even tighter in the new year.

We accomplish what we accomplish because of your support.

From all of us at KEA, our very best for 2011.

Terry Harris
Executive Director

 

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We got word over the weekend that the Spokane Riverkeeper is intervening in the pending TMDL lawsuit brought by Idaho polluter-plaintiffs Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene, and the Hayden Area Regional Sewer Board.  Recall that the Idaho dischargers filed a complaint in federal district court challenging the dissolved oxygen total maximum daily load (TMDL) issued for the Spokane River.

The litigation, which has cost North Idaho ratepayers and taxpayers more than $800,000 in legal and consulting fees, mostly asks that North Idaho dischargers be subject to the same standards as Washington’s.  This is arguably the case already. But regardless of the outcome, the Idaho plaintiffs will still need to install the very same pollution control equipment.  Notably, the Idaho dischargers are also participating in discussions of pollution trading — to be premised on the very TMDL they are challenging in Court.

We hear that settlement discussions are scheduled between EPA and the Idaho plaintiffs, and the many other lawyers which are necessarily now involved. The formal intervention will allow the Riverkeeper to participate in the settlement discussions that may – or may not – allow the Idaho dischargers to end their quixotic quest to modify the TMDL to their liking. Then, hopefully, we can get on with the cleanup of the river.

 

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We were a little taken aback this week, with the done-deal announcement that the Idaho Department of Lands and Kootenai County have entered an agreement that the County will now be responsible for the removal of hazardous pilings and booms in the Spokane River and Coeur d’Alene Lake.  The agreement, signed without public input, and at an August 31 meeting of the County Commissioners without any evidence of public notice, seems designed to undercut the efforts by the Osprey Association to preserve the booms and pilings in Cougar Bay.

We understand that the plans to remove pilings from the Spokane River have been in the works for quite some time. However, the inclusion of Coeur d’Alene Lake in this agreement appears to be a new development. Indeed, we’ve been unable to determine how and when this decision by the Commissioners got made.

The agreement was signed by Rick Currie for the County Commissioners on August 31, and it was signed by Mike Denney from the Department of Lands on August 17. Recall that IDL rejected the Osprey Association application at the end of July, and sent its explanatory letter to attorney Scott Reed dated August 12 with no mention of any negotiations with the County.

The agreement itself is broad, vague, and as typical in Idaho, unfunded. The stated purpose of the agreement is “to allow the County to remove pilings and booms they deem hazardous to navigation in the Spokane River and Lake Coeur d’Alene and to enhance public education about navigation.”  Yet the agreement is explicit that “this agreement does not obligate either party to expend funds.”

According to the oddly-worded agreement, the county shall, among other things, “Remove the pilings they deem appropriate at their expense. Appropriateness shall be based on feasibility as well as economic viability.”

Meanwhile, the State is obligated only to “assist the county in locating owners of pilings to be removed” and to provide information to the County to create informational brochures about piling removal.

It appears that with this agreement, the Idaho Department of Lands has abdicated its responsibility for Cougar Bay booms and pilings to the County, which has neither the expertise nor process to make such decisions. More critically, the path forward for the Osprey Association is less clear. Now, with the County as the contractual “appropriateness” decision-maker for pilings and booms in the Lake, renewal of its application to IDL to preserve the pilings will likely face another layer of bureaucratic nay-saying.

KEA has made a Public Records Act request to the County for documents and correspondence relating to this agreement and to the Cougar Bay pilings, and we hope to learn more about how this decision was reached. Regardless, it appears that the Kootenai County Commissioners are now key to the future of Cougar Bay.

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