U.S. Water News Online
SPOKANE, Wash. -- An historic agreement will set in motion
studies of an underground river that supplies drinking water to
400,000 people in Washington and Idaho.
Officials from the two states and the federal government planned
to sign the ``memorandum of understanding'' that spells out how they
will work together to study the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie
Congress has approved $500,000 toward the $3.5 million
comprehensive study of the aquifer and its interaction with the
Spokane River, which flows from Lake Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho
to the Columbia River in Washington, Washington Department of Ecology
spokeswoman Jani Gilbert said.
``We'll still have to ask for additional funds,'' Gilbert said.
``But when the memorandum is signed, we can start some on-the-ground
assessment on the status of the aquifer. We hope to do more than just
sit around and plan.''
Officials from the Washington Department of Ecology, the Idaho
Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Geological Survey planned
to sign the agreement near the Spokane River's headwaters in Post
The Geological Survey will perform the study, with help from the
two states' agencies, of the slow-moving, underground river flowing
underneath the Spokane River from Rathdrum Prairie in North Idaho to
No one knows how much water is in the aquifer, and a dispute
between the two states on water withdrawals came to a head last year,
when two power companies applied for millions of gallons of water a
day to cool proposed power plants in Idaho. The permits were
In Washington state, no new permits allowing water withdrawals
have been issued since 1994 because of concerns about low flows in
the Spokane River, which interacts with the aquifer.
Idaho tightened rules governing new water withdrawals by
designating the supply a groundwater management area and created a
nine-member committee to consider how to protect the aquifer.
Environmental groups unsuccessfully sought a water withdrawal
moratorium in Idaho until the federal study is completed.
In the end, conservation groups worked with chambers of commerce
in both states to ensure a clean, safe source of drinking water, said
Mike Petersen, executive director of the Lands Council, a
Spokane-based conservation group.
``This is a positive, collaborative effort to study our aquifer,''
he said. ``We have increasing demands on water as population grows.''
``During late summer, the Spokane River disappears in some
stretches because it feeds the aquifer,'' he said. ``Clearly, we need
to understand how much is coming in, how much is being used and where
are the boundaries.''
The Idaho Department of Water Resources has estimated at least 610
cubic feet of water per second -- roughly 396 million gallons a day
-- are being pumped out of the aquifer. Studies of the aquifer's
recharge showed as much as 1,450 cubic feet per second in 1963, but
only 571 cubic feet per second in 1994.
An aquifer committee, representing government, environmental and
business interests in both states, has been negotiating for two years
on how the study will be conducted.
``The memorandum has to do with how a study will be managed to try
to understand water availability and the impacts of pumping and
recharge on both sides of the border,'' said Bob Haynes of the Idaho
Department of Water Resources.
``There really isn't an overlap between what's going to be
accomplished in the study and what the water management area
designation means,'' he said. ``They complement each other.''
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