U.S. Water News Online
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Two large electricity plants proposed for
the Washington-Idaho border should be denied water rights for
cooling, an Idaho state official has ruled.
The power plants, which would be built near Rathdrum, Idaho, by
Cogentrix Energy Inc. and Newport Northwest, have sparked a water
dispute between the two states.
The plants would require huge amounts of water from the
Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, which supplies drinking water for
more than 400,000 people in the Spokane area.
``A commitment of water for the sole purpose of power generation
for a period of 30 years at the expense of other future worthwhile
uses is shortsighted,'' wrote L. Glen Saxton, hearing officer for the
Idaho Department of Water Resources. ``Technology is available to
reduce the amount of water required for power production.''
Saxton ruled the proposals were ``not reasonable.''
The two natural gas-fired plants, proposed during the West's
recent power crunch, would have combined to pull 17 million gallons
of water a day from the aquifer.
Environmental groups and some government leaders argued the
withdrawal of water was too great, since nobody knows the actual
capacity of the aquifer. The two states have agreed to a joint study,
funded by Congress, of the amount of water in the aquifer and how
fast it is recharged.
``The aquifer simply isn't large enough to allow these companies
to evaporate nearly 4 billion gallons each year, especially to
generate electricity for some other part of the country,'' said
Rachael Paschal Osborn, lead attorney for the opponents.
Jef Freeman, a spokesman for Cogentrix, based in Charlotte, N.C.,
said his company wouldn't determine its next move until it has a
chance to analyze the decision. Officials at Newport, based in
Newport Beach, Calif., did not immediately return a message seeking
The companies have 14 days to appeal the decision. It becomes
final after that.
Labor groups also opposed the plants, saying the handful of jobs
created did not justify the amount of water taken.
``Water equates to jobs,'' said Timm Ormsby with the Eastern
Washington and Northern Idaho Building Trades Council. ``The power
plants would have pumped our aquifer, turned it to steam, and shipped
the energy and our jobs south.''
Opponents contend the plants would have created only about 60
long-term jobs, but used enough water to supply 100,000 people.
Still pending is a proposal from Spokane-based Avista to draw 3
million gallons of water a day to expand an existing power plant on
the Rathdrum Prairie.
Also, the Silverwood Theme Park recently filed a request for
rights to 1 m illion gallons of water a day to serve its planned
water park in Athol.
The aquifer starts near Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho and flows
between the two states, supplying the Spokane and Little Spokane
rivers with water.
Washington and Idaho have very different approaches to aquifer
management. Washington has stopped granting water permits for new
projects. But Idaho has continued to issue water permits for large
withdrawals from the aquifer.
``This signals a new era in bistate cooperation over the use of
the aquifer,'' said Chase Davis of the Sierra Club.
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