Posts Tagged ‘Washington Department of Ecology’

“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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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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