Spokane River Phosphorus to Be Cut at Multi-Million Dollar Cost

SPOKANE, Washington, July 14, 2006 (ENS) - Spokane area civic leaders and Washington state Department of Ecology officials have endorsed a 20 year plan to reduce phosphorus pollution in the Spokane River and Lake Spokane, also called Long Lake. Every aspect of water use from watering lawns to flushing toilets will be affected by the agreement that was endorsed Wednesday.

The agreement in principle has taken over a year of studies and negotiation to reach and will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to implement.

The pact envisions construction of a new wastewater treatment and reclamation plant for Spokane County and the installation of advanced filtration at the city of Spokane's Riverside Park Water Reclamation Facility. It also includes plans for upgraded equipment at Liberty Lake and at industrial sites.

The agreement requires water conservation, the re-use of treated water for lawns and parks, and the elimination of septic tanks.

In addition, local governments may require use of phosphorus-free lawn fertilizer and conserving water in showers and toilets. New residential developments may be required to re-use highly treated water on lawns and landscaping. Parks and golf courses will be supplied with treated water for irrigation.


The Spokane river near the Washington/Idaho state line. One of the last few large undeveloped riverfront tracts between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, this 30-acre park property was purchased by Spokane County in February 2004. (Photo courtesy Inland Northwest Land Trust)
"Negotiating a cleanup plan with multiple jurisdictions, as well as complex legal and technical issues has been challenging," said Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke. "But in the end, 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."

Mielke and Ecology Water Quality Director Dave Peeler served as co-chairs of the negotiation, called the Spokane River Dissolved Oxygen TMDL [total daily maximum load] Collaboration.

"This is a milestone for the Spokane region," Peeler said. "It is a recognition that the Spokane River is the area's premier community asset and that its protection is key to the community's future from the standpoints of economics and having a clean, healthy legacy for our children and grandchildren.

Members included Ecology and the cities and industrial dischargers along the Spokane River in Washington and Idaho - Spokane County, the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake Water & Sewer District, Inland Empire Paper, Kaiser Aluminum, with participation by the Lands Council and the Sierra Club, Avista, and The Spokane Tribe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has participated as an observer.

The aquatic plant community is the foundation for a healthy and diverse river ecosystem, providing food, shelter and breeding habitats for a wide range of animal species. Too much phosphorus in rivers can degrade the plant community by altering the competitive balance between different aquatic plant species, including both higher plants and algae with consequences for the whole ecosystem.

To promote healthy riverine plant communities and the wide range of animal species that depend on them, phosphorus concentrations need to be reduced to as near to background levels as possible.

In a related effort, the Spokane Collaboration led an initiative to get a statewide ban on phosphorus in dishwasher detergent, which was adopted by the Washington State Legislature early this year.

Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession said, "The city always has been a good steward of the river and this collaborative effort is another important step that will improve the health of the river and maintain our quality of life."

The agreement in principle will now be used to draw up engineering plans, budgets, and interlocal agreements. Public hearings by the state Department of Ecology and local jurisdictions will be held over the next few months.

A new oversight and monitoring group with representatives from local governments and Ecology will be formed to monitor and help manage clean-up efforts.

Each year, local dischargers will report their progress to Ecology. After 10 years, a major review of the plan will assess how well the participants are doing toward the goals of the plan and whether plan revisions are needed.