U.S. Water News Online
SPOKANE, Wash. -- A 20-year Spokane River cleanup effort
that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars has been announced by
civic leaders and the state Department of Ecology.
The plan seeks to reduce phosphorus pollution in the Spokane River
by, among other things, building a $100 million wastewater treatment
plant and reducing the number of septic tanks in the region.
Every aspect of water use from watering lawns to flushing toilets
will be affected.
The goal is to reduce phosphorus in treated wastewater to the same
level of phosphorus as would be in the river naturally.
"This is a milestone for the Spokane region," Dave Peeler, the
Ecology Department's water quality director, said.
"This region will be on the cutting edge of any community in the
nation in cleaning up the Spokane River and protecting it for
generations to come," said Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke,
who with Peeler served as co-chairmen of yearlong negotiations.
Amber Waldref, a clean water activist for The Lands Council, a
Spokane environmental group, said her group was pleased with the
agreement. She said it will likely prevent litigation, and should be
used as a model in the rest of the state.
But one environmental activist called the deal a mixed bag.
"One problem is the false assumption that zero pollution is coming
across the state line from Idaho," said Rachael Paschal Osborn of the
Spokane chapter of the Sierra Club.
The agreement is also likely to encourage more growth and more
septic tanks, she complained.
Osborn also pointed to a spill of raw sewage into the Spokane
River that may have been going on for days, but was only detected
recently. Health officials warned against swimming or other
recreational use of the river after the leak was discovered.
"The city of Spokane is doing a lousy job of managing the sewer
system," Osborn said.
The talks also involved cities and industrial dischargers along
the Spokane River in Washington and Idaho. Included were the Liberty
Lake Water & Sewer District, Inland Empire Paper, Kaiser
Aluminum, the Lands Council, the Sierra Club, Avista, and The Spokane
Tribe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency participated as an
It was efforts to clean up the Spokane River that led to a
statewide ban on phosphorus in dishwasher detergent, adopted by the
Legislature early this year.
High levels of phosphorus can cause an influx of algae, which
depletes oxygen from the water, making survival more difficult for
The new agreement in principle will now be used to draw up
engineering plans and budgets.
Each year, local dischargers will report their progress to
Ecology. After 10 years, a review will determine if revisions are
Wastewater treated at the county's new plant would be among the
cleanest in the country, county officials say.
The state Department of Ecology estimates the natural level of
phosphorus in the river is 10 micrograms for each liter of water.
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