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Washington Water Watch: June 2017 Edition

In this issue, find pictures of our recent Celebrate Water event, an update on the Spokane River rule, links to CELP’s Columbia River Treaty media and document library, and an opportunity to speak up for the Hanford Reach National Monument!

Read the June issue of Water Watch here.


Protecting Spokane River summertime flows goes to court

News Advisory – Court hearing on June 9

Contacts:

  • Dan Von Seggern, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, (206) 829-8299, dvonseggern@celp.org
  • Andrew Hawley, Western Environmental Law Center, (206) 487-7250, hawley@westernlaw.org
  • John Roskelley, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, (509) 954-5653 john@johnroskelley.com
  • Thomas O’Keefe, American Whitewater, (425) 417-9012 okeefe@americanwhitewater.org
  • Tom Soeldner, Sierra Club, Upper Columbia River Group, (509) 270-6995 waltsoe@gmail.com

Next step in process essential for future of river and Spokane community

Issue: When water is flowing in the Spokane River during hot summer months, should the River’s water be protected for community recreational and aesthetic use and river fish and wildlife — or should it be available to be taken from the River by the State Dept of Ecology through the granting of water rights?

State court: Thurston County Superior Court, Hon. James Dixon, Judge.

Where: Thurston County Courthouse, 2000 Lakeridge Drive, Olympia

When: Friday, June 9 1:30 PM.

Spokane River issues before the court

The beloved Spokane River flows through the second largest city in Washington state, including spectacular waterfalls and a deep gorge. In most summers, enough water flows in the River to support fishing, river rafting, and other outdoor recreation. River advocates asking the Court to hold the Department of Ecology to its duty to protect fish and wildlife, scenic, aesthetic and recreational values, and navigation, when establishing the minimum summer flows allowable for the Spokane River.

Overwhelming public support…ignored

Nearly 2,000 comments, including boater surveys and aesthetic inventories, were submitted to the Department of Ecology during the public comment period on the draft rule. In setting instream flows, the Department of Ecology’s decision failed to take into account boaters who use the Spokane River, fishermen who pursue the river’s wild redband trout, and businesses that depend on Spokane River recreation. Ecology also failed to conduct a basic assessment of the scenic values of the Spokane River as it flows through the gorge and Riverside State Park – important to users of the Centennial Trail and others.

Overall the state agency ignored all public comments in support of protecting the Spokane River and adopted unchanged its flow rule of 850 cubic feet per second (CFS) – near-drought level river flows that will jeopardize the Spokane River and its public uses.

Need to protect recreational use of the Spokane River

River advocates retained Dr. Doug Whittaker and Dr. Bo Shelby, experts in recreation and aesthetic flows from Confluence Research and Consulting, to evaluate appropriate flows. Dr. Shelby and Dr. Whittaker participated in establishing aesthetic flows for Spokane Falls, and are the foremost national experts on flows. They concluded that the Department of Ecology’s adopted flows are inadequate to support most types of recreational boating on the river. Higher flows in the Spokane River, when available, should be protected.

Fish need water

Spokane River fisheries need cold, abundant water. The Department of Ecology erred in concluding that more water is bad for fish, thereby justifying its decision not to protect Spokane River flows. In response, petitioners submitted a report prepared by Prof. Allan Scholz, retired Eastern Washington University fisheries biologist and professor. (Prof. Scholz is author of a multivolume treatise on Eastern Washington fisheries, and is one of the foremost experts on Spokane River redband trout.)

Prof. Scholz determined that the state’s flow rule – setting the Spokane River flow rate below the Monroe Street Dam in the summer at 850 CFS – is inadequate to protect and restore a healthy redband trout population, and that the scientific study prepared in support of the rate was flawed. The Department of Ecology could have accommodated the needs of river recreationists and fish without sacrificing fish.

Protecting aesthetics in the city’s heart

“Our city owes its origins, its beauty, and a great deal of its past and present life to the Spokane River,” said Tom Soeldner, co-chair of Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group based in Spokane. “It would be a betrayal of the river and our identity if we did not maintain healthy and aesthetic river flows.”

Flows not protected in the flow rule are flows lost to the river

The Department of Ecology has a duty under state law and the public trust doctrine to adopt flows that are fully protective of all public instream values, including fish and wildlife, recreation, navigation, water quality, and scenic beauty. Again, flows that are not protected are at risk to be diverted from the Spokane River for out-of-stream water uses, including Idaho pumpers, the city of Spokane, and the office of the Columbia River’s Spokane-Rathdrum ASR project.

Appellants are Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law & Policy and American Whitewater, and are represented by attorneys Dan Von Seggern (CELP) and  Andrew Hawley (WELC).

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Honoring the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, protecting Coeur d’Alene Lake

News Advisory – March 6, 2017

Coeur d’Alene Tribe to be honored in Spokane for protecting Coeur d’Alene Lake

Mining, smelting wastes threaten Ancestral Homeland, Tribe Took Action

When: Friday evening, March 10, 2016, 6:30 – 9:30 p.m.

Where: Spokane, Patsy Clark Mansion 2208 West 2nd Ave.

Who: Coeur d’Alene Tribe. Included will be Indigenous and Religious Leaders

Contacts & RSVP:

Tickets: $35 per person

Timeliness and relevance: Watershed Heroes

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe will receive the Watershed Hero Award because of the Tribe’s leadership in protecting Coeur d’Alene Lake, and restoring the basin’s waters contaminated with mining and smelting wastes. Coeur d’Alene Lake is much beloved and an economic engine for the Inland Northwest.

Through this honoring event, we hope to provide a broader, regional understanding and recognition not only for work the Tribe has undertaken in the past, but also of the Tribe’s continuing efforts to meet the formidable challenges needed to protect Lake Coeur d’Alene,

About the honoring event: “Winter Waters” is held annually in Spokane to celebrate work to restore the Upper Columbia River and honor people who have made a significant contribution to protecting water for the common good. The event is jointly hosted by Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, with the awards presented by Sierra Club.
Event Sponsors: Upper Columbia United Tribes * Bishop William Skylstad * Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  *  Eymann Allison Hunter Jones P.S.  *  Linda Finney & W. Thomas Soeldner  *  John & Joyce Roskelley  *  EnviroScience  *  Kathy Dixon  *  Columbia Institute for Water Policy  *  Rachael & John Osborn

Links –

* * An interview with Tribal Chairman Allan is available upon request


Water “CPR” needed for extremely low Spokane River

H2KNOWriverlow-1

News Release  – August 30, 2016

Public Water Alert

Inland Northwest residents encouraged to use Water CPR:

Conserve – Protect – Reuse

Despite cooler weather in forecast – Spokane River water levels are in the red

Contacts:

Spokane River 8-30-2016 741 cfs

Spokane River today, August 30, 10:30 a.m. – flows at 741 cubic feet per second. People’s Park – confluence of Hangman Creek and Spokane River.

Spokane – Today river advocates again called on their neighbors and Spokane City water managers to turn down the spigots, and turn off sprinklers. Spokane River flows dropped below 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) – the state-mandated minimum flow – more than a week ago, and have been running at or below 750 cfs most of this week.    

“Think about our river and aquifer as one,” said John Roskelley, former Spokane County Commissioner with the statewide Center for Environmental Law & Policy.   “The water we use from the aquifer is water lost to the river for fish and wildlife habitat. Remember water CPR: conserve, protect, reuse. Water is our most important resource – let’s not waste it.”

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Spokane River 8-30-2016 741cfs

Watering alleys in the City of Spokane, wasting water. August 30, 2018. Meanwhile, the river is gasping for water.

People can take five actions that will conserve water and help the Spokane River:

  1. Reduce outdoor watering (especially stop over-watering law grass)
  2. Replace lawn with low-water plants
  3. Fix broken or clogged pipes and sprinkler heads
  4. Fix leaks in all plumbing fixtures
  5. Install water-efficient devices (such as low flow toilets and shower heads)

“Our water bills don’t begin to reflect the true cost of water,” said Tom Soeldner, retired Lutheran Pastor with the local Upper Columbia River Group, Sierra Club. “The real water bill for this region is being paid for by the Spokane River – the fish, wildlife, and people whose jobs depend on the river. The immediate action we can take to right this wrong is to stop using water unless it’s essential.”

The Inland Northwest is notable for its hot, dry summers. Water used by 600,000 people in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene region comes from the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer, which also supplies the Spokane River. Large municipal wells that are close to the River, such as the City of Spokane’s Well Electric facility, can have an immediate depleting impact on river flows.

“These low river flows are hard on fish,” said Sam Mace, who frequently fishes the river. “When the Spokane River flows are in the red, people who care about the river should be seeing red. We can do better, all of us, in using water wisely to protect the Spokane River.”

Spokane River flows are monitored at the USGS Monroe Street Gage, a measuring device located just downstream of the Monroe Street bridge. Interested parties can watch flow trends on the web or in the local newspaper.

The H2KNOW campaign is a community-based water conservation project to help the region recognize the intimate relationship between the Aquifer and Spokane River, and the need to conserve water to help protect the Spokane River.

Links –

 

 

 

 


Appeals Court: clean up Spokane River PCB pollution

News Release – August 17, 2016

Dept of Ecology must redo permit for Spokane County’s Wastewater Treatment Facility consistent with water quality laws

Contacts:

  • Rachael Paschal Osborn (Sierra Club) 509.954-5641 rdpaschal@earthlink.net
  • Dan Von Seggern (Center for Environmental Law & Policy) 206.829-8299 dvonseggern@celp.org

Spokane – On August 16, the Washington State Court of Appeals issued the third legal decision in favor of Spokane River advocates seeking to stop more PCBs from being added to the Spokane River from the Spokane County’s wastewater treatment facility. Three courts have now ruled that the Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) failed to do what the law requires: analyze whether the County’s discharge of PCBs has potential to violate state water quality standards, and if so, then impose appropriate limits to prevent such violations. The Appeals Court left intact an earlier ruling that the Spokane River Toxics Task Force is not an adequate or legal substitute for pollution control limits.

Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) filed the lawsuit against Ecology in 2011, and praised the Court’s ruling. “The Court decision is another important step to clean up PCBs polluting the Spokane River,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, with Sierra Club and CELP.

In rejecting the appeal by Ecology and Spokane County, the Appeals Court stands with earlier decisions that, because the 2011 permit lacks any limit on PCB discharges, it violates the Clean Water Act, and that other terms of the permit are vague and unenforceable. The Board remanded the permit back to Ecology to do over.

The Spokane River is among Washington State’s most contaminated river for PCBs. Exposure to PCBs through ingestion of Spokane River fish represents a public health hazard.  In 2008, the Washington State Department of Health issued fish consumption advisories, recommending limited or no consumption of fish from Lake Roosevelt and the Spokane River.

In 2011, Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group and CELP filed this suit and a companion lawsuit in federal court to compel Washington State and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to uphold water quality laws for the Spokane River. The Spokane Tribe intervened in support of the federal lawsuit. In that case, a Seattle federal judge ruled that EPA was wrong not to require the Washington State to prepare a clean-up plan for Spokane River PCBs.

“The Clean Water Act requires the Department of Ecology to protect our public waters by evaluating a new facility’s potential for pollution and placing appropriate limits on discharges,” said Dan Von Seggern, staff attorney with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Here, the court affirmed that Ecology must evaluate and limit PCB discharges from Spokane County’s wastewater treatment facility. This ruling is an important step in reducing PCB pollution in the Spokane River.”

Sierra Club and CELP are represented by attorney Richard Smith of Smith & Lowney PLLC.

Links:

More on the 2013 ruling upheld by state courts

The state’s pollution court, the Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) ruled that the Toxics Management Program in Ecology’s 2011 permit “is “confusing, vague, and lacks definition of key terms. More importantly, it lacks deadlines by which Spokane County is to undertake and/or complete actions to reduce PCBs in influent to the facility. It lacks mandatory language requiring Spokane County to actually undertake necessary actions to achieve reductions in PCBs in both influent and effluent. . . . [R]ather than requiring Spokane County to meet water quality standards, the [Toxics Management Program] only asks that the County take steps so that ‘in time the effluent does not contribute to PCBs in the Spokane River exceeding applicable water quality standards.’ . . . The Permit must require Spokane County to comply with water quality standards . . . .”” (Paragraph 13, p 23-24) This requirement will need to include compliance with the Spokane Tribe’s downstream water quality standards that were adopted by the Tribe and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2003.

Additionally, the Board ruled that the Regional Toxics Task Force fails “to require that “goals be achieved by a specified date. Nor does [this permit condition] establish an objective standard against which its accomplishments can be measured . . . . [The Toxics Task Force permit condition] does not impose any restrictions on quantities, rates, and concentrations of PCBs being discharged from point sources into the Spokane River. While the Board finds that the creation of the Task Force is a positive step toward bring the Spokane River into compliance with water quality standards for PCBs, it is uncertain that the Task Force will achieve any of its stated goals or achieve a measurable reduction in the discharge of PCBs. . . . Ecology is directed on remand to modify the [Toxics Task Force permit condition] to make clear that compliance with the Permit’s requirements take precedence over the work of the Task Force.”” (Paragraph 17, pp 26-27)

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July Issue of Washington Water Watch

Click here to read the July issue of Washington Water Watch.

In this month’s issue of Water Watch, read an update on the Enloe case, a background of the Chehalis watershed and recommendations, articles on the H2KNOW Cammpaign, Ecology’s draft CAFO permit, and an introduction of our Summer 2016 Legal Intern. In addition, learn more about CELP’s special Summer Membership special!


Hot temperatures prompt calls to conserve water to help struggling Spokane River

kids news conference JO photo 8-5-2015Spokane River nears 1,000cfs; H2KNOW project launches public education effort

July 28, 2016

Contacts:

  • Tom Soeldner (Upper Columbia River Group, Sierra Club) waltsoe@gmail.com 509.270-6995
  • John Roskelley (Center for Environmental Law & Policy) john@johnroskelley.com (509) 954-5653
  • Paul Delaney (Northwest Whitewater Association spokanerafterguy@comcast.net, (509) 220-8018
  • Jerry White (Spokane Riverkeeper) jerry@cforjustice.org (509) 475-1228

Spokane – Today the H2KNOW campaign reminded the households and businesses in the Inland Northwest to conserve water to help the Spokane River. As daily temperatures rise, people and businesses are using more water, and Spokane River flows are dropping.

“Every time people turn on a faucet to water yards, or the City waters its golf courses, we harm the Spokane River,” said Tom Soeldner with the H2KNOW campaign and a retired Lutheran pastor. “Our message is: use water wisely, and know that you can help the Spokane River by conserving water.”

People can take five actions that will conserve water and help the Spokane River:

  1. Reduce outdoor watering (especially stop over-watering grass)
  2. Replace lawn with low-water plants
  3. Fix broken or clogged pipes and sprinkler heads
  4. Fix leaks in all plumbing fixtures
  5. Install water-efficient devices (such as low flow toilets and shower heads)

The Inland Northwest is notable for its hot, dry summers. Water used by 600,000 people in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene region comes from the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer, which also supplies the Spokane River. Water that would otherwise flow from the aquifer to the Spokane River is intercepted for human use contributing to low river flows. Low flows harm fish, wildlife, recreation opportunities, and businesses that benefit from the river. Large municipal wells that are close to the River, such as the City of Spokane’s Well Electric facility, can have an immediate depleting impact on river flows.

Spokane River flows are monitored at the USGS Monroe Street Gage, a measuring device located just downstream of the Monroe Street bridge. Interested parties can watch flow trends on the web or in the local newspaper.

H2KNOW organizers note that, while the region is not yet suffering a repeat of last summer’s sustained high temperatures and lack of rainfall that caused high water consumption, high temperatures are in the forecast and will prompt increased water use, resulting in a decrease to Spokane River flows.

The H2KNOW campaign is a community-based water conservation project hosted by the Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Sierra Club.

Links –


Cleaning up Spokane River PCB pollution

News Release – June 6, 2016

EPA challenged over failures to clean up Spokane River PCB pollution

Contact –

Last week in U.S. District Court, Spokane River advocates challenged as inadequate an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to remove the industrial pollutants known as PCBs from the Spokane River. They hope for a ruling that will end decades of foot-dragging and produce a reasonable, expeditious cleanup plan for the river.

“We are looking forward to showing Judge Barbara Rothstein how the EPA’s plan for PCBs in the Spokane River would frustrate and counter the letter and intent of the Clean Water Act,” said Richard Smith, Clean Water Act attorney representing Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP). “EPA’s excuses for not calling for a cleanup plan on a reasonable and expeditious timeline are just that – excuses, and we think the judge will see that.”

The federal Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, requires that polluted waters be cleaned up so that they are fishable and swimmable. Forty-four years later, the Spokane River still does not have a cleanup plan for PCBs.

On April 5 the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal filed by Spokane County, Kaiser Aluminum Washington, LLC, and the State of Washington Department of Ecology (State Ecology). The Ninth Circuit decision lets stand the U.S. District Court’s ruling that the EPA cannot substitute the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force, a polluter-dominated committee process, for a cleanup plan with enforceable targets for Spokane River PCBs.

This case is important because the heavily used Spokane River flows through the second-most populated area in Washington State and is contaminated with PCBs, is an example of the failure of state and federal agencies to fulfill trust duties to protect the state’s waters, and involves the first-ever water quality standards based on fish consumption by humans in Washington State (adopted by the Spokane Tribe of Indians).

“River polluters control the Toxics Task Force that is using a ‘consensus process’ to write a plan to dodge the clean water law,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn of Sierra Club and CELP. “Does anyone seriously believe the polluters will impose expensive treatment requirements on themselves? This is why EPA must step in and prepare a plan with binding cleanup targets that actually protects the Spokane River.”

More about PCBs, and the legal case to clean up the Spokane River

The Spokane River is heavily polluted with PCBs. The federal Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, requires that polluted waters be cleaned up so that they are fishable and swimmable. Forty-four years later, in 2016, the Spokane River still does not have the cleanup plan for PCBs required by the Clean Water Act.

PCBs are a group of industrial compounds associated with liver dysfunction and cancer, and are now banned in the United States.  Washington State formally recognizes that the Spokane River is impaired for PCBs.  When a river is listed for PCBs, the federal Clean Water Act requires binding cleanup targets before issuing any permits that would add more PCBs to the Spokane River.  Such a cleanup plan has never been completed for the Spokane River, but state and federal agencies have issued pollution permits anyway, failing to include numeric limits. Ecology is due to renew those permits this year, but the agency is not expected to include numeric limits for toxics.

In 2011, the Washington Department of Ecology abandoned efforts to adopt a PCB cleanup plan, largely because of political opposition by Spokane River polluters, who would be required to reduce PCBs in effluent by up to 99% to meet both Washington State and Spokane Tribe water quality standards. These polluters include Inland Empire Paper, Kaiser, and the Liberty Lake, Spokane County, and City of Spokane sewage treatment plants. Instead, Ecology formed the Spokane River Toxics Task Force and required the polluters to participate, but also gave them control over the goals and activities of the Task Force.

Subsequently EPA issued discharge permits to three Idaho dischargers – the City of Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Hayden Water & Sewer District – also not requiring PCB limits and also requiring participation in the Toxics Task Force.

Sierra Club & CELP filed a citizen lawsuit against EPA in 2011. The Spokane Tribe of Indians intervened in support of the citizen lawsuit, and the Department of Ecology, Spokane County and Kaiser intervened to defend EPA. U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ruled in March 2015 that EPA’s failure to require a clean-up plan was an abuse of discretion and ordered EPA to submit a plan to the Court by July 2015.

EPA, Ecology, Kaiser, and Spokane County appealed the ruling, but EPA withdrew its appeal and submitted a document (which fails to require a cleanup plan) to the District Court. On April 5, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Ecology-County-Kaiser appeal in a one-paragraph decision. This means that a CELP-Sierra Club challenge to the EPA’s “non-cleanup plan” document will now move forward in District Court.

Last week, Spokane River advocates filed their objection with the federal judge, challenging EPA’s proposal. Meanwhile, Ecology is preparing to issue updated pollution permits to river dischargers in Washington State. The City of Spokane sued Monsanto Corporation because of the river’s PCB pollution.

Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Richard Smith and Marc Zemel of Smith & Lowney, a Seattle firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation.  The Spokane Tribe of Indians is represented by Ted Knight.

Links –

 

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May Issue of Washington Water Watch

Click here to read the May issue of Water Watch.

Summer is coming! This month’s issue of Water Watch features information on our upcoming Celebrate Water event, an article on our letter to Governor Inslee about restoring higher flow requirements on the Spokane River, a “Love Letter to a River” by CELP member Pat Sumption, and an introduction to CELP’s newest board member, Jill F. Johnson.