Monthly Archives: April 2017


Washington Water Watch: April 2017 Edition

In this issue, learn about WRIA 56 Hangman Creek in the latest post of the Watersheds to Watch blog series, learn about CELP’s upcoming participation in GiveBIG, sign up to paddle the Hanford Reach with John Roskelley, and meet our office puppies!

Read the April issue of Water Watch here.


CELP Receives $200,000 from Columbia Riverkeeper Lawsuit Settlement

by Trish Rolfe

CELP has a long history of working to protect the Columbia River Watershed, and now thanks to Columbia Riverkeeper, we can do even more work. Last week the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Washington entered an agreement settling a Clean Water Act case between Columbia Riverkeeper and Sandvik Special Metals, LLC.

This case began in 2015, after Sandvik reported that it discharged more ammonia and fluoride into the Columbia River than the company’s water pollution permit allowed. Under the agreement, Sandvik will update its water pollution control technology and fund several substantial projects to improve water quality in the Columbia River and its tributaries in Eastern Washington.

CELP was selected to receive funding from this settlement to work protect and restore streamflow and water quality in the mid-Columbia River basin to support endangered salmon and steelhead, other aquatic life, and recreational opportunities. The Columbia River, many of its tributaries, and their aquatic resources are negatively impacted by low or altered streamflow. Low streamflow causes or exacerbates many of the water quality problems that impact aquatic life in the Columbia River basin, such as high water temperatures, low dissolved oxygen levels, and high concentrations of pollutants.

CELP’s work to protect water quantity and streamflow in the mid-Columbia basin will consist of:

2. CELP’s Mid-Columbia Basin Instream Flows Initiative

Water quantity and water quality are closely connected, especially with respect to water temperature. Setting enforceable minimum instream flow requirements in tributaries of the Columbia River will help protect water quality in these tributaries and ensure that endangered Columbia River salmon and steelhead have adequate spawning and rearing habitat. Increasing instream flow in Columbia River tributaries could also enhance thermal refugia in the mainstream Columbia River at the mouth of these tributaries, which are used by migrating adult salmon and steelhead.

The State of Washington is obligated, under statutory programs, the public trust doctrine, and U.S.-Tribal treaties, to protect and sustainably manage river flows. Since 1969, state law has explicitly directed state agencies to adopt rules to protect instream flows for public benefit in each watershed. Nonetheless, formal instream flow protections have been adopted for only one-third of Washington’s watershed. Many of the remaining unprotected watersheds are tributaries to the Mid-Columbia River in central Washington.

CELP’s Mid-Columbia Basin Instream Flows Initiative would examine which Columbia River tributaries in central Washington currently do not have mandated minimum instream flows. Some of the unprotected tributaries in the Mid-Columbia basin include the Wind, White Salmon, Klickitat, Palouse, Pend Oreille, and Sanpoil rivers, and Rock and Glade creeks.

2. CELP’s Ethics & Treaty Project

CELP’s Ethics & Treaty Project focuses on working with tribes and conservation organizations to advocate for modernizing the Columbia River Treaty. The mission of CELP’s Ethics & Treaty Project is to modernize the Columbia River Treaty to promote the common good through stewardship and justice, while encouraging respectful dialogue and an international water ethic for the Columbia River.

Specifically, CELP seeks to support efforts to include “ecosystem-based function” as a new primary purpose of a re-negotiated Columbia River Treaty, on equal footing with the Treaty’s two current purposes: hydropower and flood risk management. As part of this effort, we would support work to restore fish passage to the Upper Columbia River, including all watersheds where salmon historically migrated, including the Spokane and Pend Oreille River basins.

CELP’s Ethics & Treaty Project will continue to focus on public outreach and education. Thus far, we have hosted Ethics & Treaty conferences all over the Pacific Northwest and Canada, and we hope to host several more in the coming years in Montana and in British Columbia. We will also host roundtable calls to connect tribes, conservation groups, and citizens from Canada & the U.S. who are interested in modernizing the treaty. Facilitating these outreach and organizing activities across several western states and provinces requires a significant commitment of staff time and resources. This funding would allow CELP to intensify and extend its Ethics & Treaty Project to advocate on both sides of the border for a re-negotiated Columbia River Treaty that recognizes the importance of maintaining the Columbia’s ecosystem-based function.

Read more about the case in the Tri-City Herald.


Watersheds to Watch: WRIA 56 Hangman (Latah)

by Elan Ebeling
 

Hangman or Latah Creek, originates in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Idaho, and flows across the border into Washington, where it stretches through the city of Spokane and joins with the Spokane River. WRIA 56 encompasses the section of the creek in Washington State, starting from the border with Idaho.

The Hangman Creek Watershed has a long history of agriculture. In the early part of the 20th century, thousands of acres of forest were cleared for farming. Modifications to straighten stream channels, and new irrigation channels and ditches resulted in erosion, poor water quality and increased flash flooding that continues in the present day.

Agriculture continues to be the most significant use of land in the Hangman Creek Watershed (about 65%), and a century of heavy farming and population growth has taken its toll on water quantity, quality, and fisheries. According to the Hangman Creek Water Resources Management Plan, during the summer months, the average flow is below 3 cfs. Low flows also contribute to temperature and water quality issues. Hangman Creek has been described as “one of the most degraded waterbodies in eastern Washington State,” and fails to meet Washington State water quality standards for temperature, fecal coliform, and pH. In addition, the degraded water from Hangman Creek flows into the Spokane River every year along with heavy sediment from erosion, contributing to algae blooms and other water quality issues on the Spokane.

Although the creek’s native name Latah means “fish” in Nez Perce, few remain in Hangman Creek. As a result of the region’s long history of agriculture, fish habitat has gone through dramatic changes in the last century. While Hangman Creek once had healthy populations of native redband trout, salmon, and steelhead, the alterations made to vegetation patterns and channels to accommodate farming, as well as increased sediment and temperature in the river has resulted in heavily reduced populations of trout, and near nonexistent populations of other game fish.

These problems have been exacerbated by the proliferation of domestic permit exempt wells, and the over allocation of water rights. Ecology’s Water Availability Report states that the Department of Fish and Wildlife has limited most surface water sources in Hangman Creek through Surface Water Source Limitations, and that the majority of water has already been appropriated.

An instream flow rule for WRIA 56 is crucial to the future of Hangman Creek to protect critical fish habitat and combat worsening water quality, yet none exists. The Hangman Creek Watershed Planning Unit was unable to come to a consensus on exact values for instream flow recommendations by the time their 2005 Watershed Management Plan was published, but agreed that they wanted an instream flow rule. What’s more, their plan stated that they would notify Ecology if a consensus could not be reached in the next phase of planning, and expected Ecology to complete the process and enact a rule if necessary.

Despite the completion of an instream flow study on Hangman Creek, no rule exists for WRIA 56, and information on the current status of rulemaking is sparse. Although setting instream flows will not solve Hangman Creek’s severe pollution and erosion issues, it is critical to preserve what little water remains, as population growth predictions and increased demand for water resources only point to more issues in the future. As acknowledged by the WRIA 56 planning unit, rulemaking is ultimately the responsibility of the Department of Ecology. CELP urges Ecology to act now to develop an instream flow rule to protect the Hangman Creek watershed.

If you are interested in helping to secure protections for the Hangman Creek watershed, please email CELP at contact@celp.org.


Washington Water Watch: March 2017 Edition

The March issue of Washington Water Watch features an interview with CELP’s newest board member Patrick Williams, our latest Voices for Water interview with Chairman Chief James Allan of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, CELP’s 2016 Annual Report, and a call to action to speak up for the Similkameen River in Okanogan County.

Read the March issue of Water Watch here.