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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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Sure. The guy with the neck tattoo knocks on the door to shovel snow when there’s four inches of fluffy powder. But he’s nowhere to be found when there’s nine inches of the wet stuff.  So, while the ibuprofen kicks in, here’s what we’re reading this holiday weekend:

— Frustration with the largely voluntary approach to saving the Chesapeake Bay finally boils over.  Does grassroots power need to be deployed more effectively? Bay Action Plan

— New guidance for “categorical exclusions” from NEPA review. Have we learned important lessons from a certain deep water oil drilling disaster? CPR Blog

— What does climate change look like? Here are the photos: Lost islands in the Chesapeake and dead and dying white pine in Yellowstone.

— Why do we love our communities? Polling shows it isn’t the economy, stupid. NRDC Switchboard. (Also, Legal Planet.)

— John Wesley Powell understood the western water rights battleground and had a solution (and a cool map) in 1890. If only…  AqueousAdvisors.

— Good news and bad news for non-profits like ours. The bad news is that a growing number of Americans don’t give anything at all to charity. The good news is that most Americans still plan to give something this season.

— Finally, totally awesome photos of earth from space!  USGS/EROS

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The Rathdrum Prairie CAMP — short for Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan — is currently being drafted by the Idaho Water Resources Board for the long-term management of our important local aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for more than a half million people. Jeff Briggs from our summer legal team files this report from the Rathdrum Prairie CAMP meeting being held in Coeur d’Alene today:

This morning I attended Dr. Venkataramana Sridhar’s talk on climate change related impacts expected to occur on the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.  Interesting was the fact that five different models are used to predict the range of water flow in the context of differing CO2 emission scenarios.  Depending upon the amount of CO2 discharged into the atmosphere, the climate could be expected to warm as little as .18 degrees Fahrenheit in a decade to as much as 9.7 degrees Fahrenheit.  The models generally predict a 4-5% increase in precipitation, although some predict a decrease.  Notably though, all five models in Dr. Sridhar’s study predict that peak flows will shift from May to April due to earlier snowmelt.

This study, to provide projections for the CAMP, has a long road ahead.  Although the present study is focused on natural flow variations related to climate change, additional studies will be needed to integrate how human land use patterns can have an effect on natural flow.  However, even without an increased intensity of land use, the projected natural flow variations provide an impetus to increase water storage and conservation efforts into the CAMP in order to ensure adequate water supply for times of groundwater recharge scarcity.

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