Protecting Lake Coeur d’Alene – Water is Life
Winter Waters Celebration, March 10 – Honoring the Coeur d’Alene Tribe
When: March 10 (Friday) 6:30 p.m. – 9:30
Where: Spokane – historic Patsy Clark Mansion, 2208 W. 2nd Ave
What: Honoring our heroes – also music, desserts and other small foods, wines
Tickets: $35 per person (purchase on-line or at the door)
To help sponsor the event or for more information, contact: John Osborn MD firstname.lastname@example.org 509.939-1290
Sponsors: Honoring the Coeur d’Alene Tribe
Upper Columbia United Tribes * Bishop William Sklystad * 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
Honoring the Tribe
In the homeland of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, nearly a century of hard-rock mining in the Coeur d’Alene Mining District led to release of massive mining and smelting wastes into streams and rivers. The extent of the pollution is truly staggering. There would be no cleanup — no hope for protecting Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River from mining pollution — without the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. The Tribe’s work to protect and restore their homeland is historic with enduring benefits for the Tribe and indeed for all life. We wish to thank the Tribe for their assistance in providing background information for the following summary.
Tribal World View
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe were the original land managers in the Basin. For the Tribe, all things living are interconnected. Relationship with other life is based on kinship rather than human supremacy. Resources are always to be used in a respectful and sustainable manner. Decisions include how Tribal descendants will be affected seven generations into the future.
Homeland and natural resource overview
- Historically 4 million acres: located in what is now the Idaho Panhandle from Montana to Washington, Lake Pend Oreille to the Clearwater breaks.
- Lands and waters were pristine until the advent of white settlement in the mid-1800s.
- Since then ecological conditions changed drastically: logging practices have eliminated old growth forests, clear-cut hillsides, changed species diversity, created a highly concentrated network of roads, and displaced wildlife species; agriculture has greatly increased agricultural runoff of pesticides, herbicides and nutrients; mining has poured hundreds of millions of tons of tailings, liquid chemicals and airborne contaminants into the Basin.
All of these practices derived wealth for the few, jobs for some, and left a legacy of negative natural resource impacts for all.
As a result of such impacts, the Tribe decided to take action and championed some major efforts to address the many problems facing their natural resource base (the center of their culture).
- EPA-related work: In the mid to late 1980’s, EPA began Superfund work in the Silver Valley. The Tribe immediately became involved in the cleanup – at first informally but later through cooperative agreements with EPA. Local, regional and State politics hoped the cleanup would be contained to a $200 million cleanup within a small portion of the Basin (the 21-square-mile “box”). Through the Tribe’s oversight and incessant urging of the EPA process, the original cleanup plan has been greatly increased and has led to three Records of Decisions (ROD’s 1, 2, and 3). To date EPA has spent over $600 million and still has yet to determine agency clean up actions for the lower 20 miles of the Coeur d’Alene River and associated lakes and wetlands, or what to do with Coeur d’Alene Lake. The Tribe believes that several billion dollars of EPA cleanup is yet to come.
- NRDA lawsuit and the Lake Case: In 1991, the Tribe filed two major lawsuits: Tribe v. Idaho (the Lake Case) and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) lawsuit (Tribe v. Gulf Resources et al.) These lawsuits set the stage for what became many years of protracted litigation. The NRD lawsuit sought $3 billion dollars for the injury to natural resources brought upon by the release of hazardous substances. The Lake ownership case sought to reaffirm the Tribes ownership of the Lake so the Tribe could then proceed to address the myriad of environmental problems left unchecked by the State of Idaho. Ultimately the Tribe prevailed in both lawsuits. The Tribe has been and continues to be on the Trustee Council responsible for the development and implementation of Restoration Plan to spend the $140 million brought about through the lawsuits.
- Lake Management Plan Development and Implementation: The Lake is the center of the Tribe’s creation story. Their name translates to, “Those that are found here.” Although the Tribe would have wanted EPA to undertake the protection of the Lake, politics has not yet allowed this. So rather than have a Superfund cleanup for the Lake, the Tribe was left with little option but to agree to coordinate with the State of Idaho to develop and implement a Lake Management Plan (LMP) that would, in essence, be the “non-CERCLA” approach to manage lake-bed metals contamination. After seven years of lackluster implementation (due to lack of funding and no political will to enact regulations) Tribal water quality data are indicating declining water quality. This indicates the LMP is proving to be ineffective. The Tribe has asked EPA to once again revisit their “deferred” decision of what they will do to protect the environment from future heavy-metals contamination.
- Water Rights Litigation: 10 years ago the Tribe was forced by the State of Idaho to be a part of the north Idaho water rights adjudication process. This has been a battle to develop Tribal water claims. The Tribe now faces a trial to prove entitlement to federally reserved water rights.
- Avista Mitigation: After the most recent FERC relicensing process that ended in 2011, the Tribe received $100 million to conduct natural resource restoration efforts to mitigate for losses to Tribal resources as a result of Avista Corporation project operations. Tribal investments include; aquatic weed (milfoil) management, wetlands enhancement, cultural resources protection, and water quality monitoring.
- Capacity Building: All during the last 25 years the Tribe continued to build internal technical capacity to tackle the complex and daunting environmental challenges in the Basin. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has a Natural Resources Department and a Lake Management Department numbering about 75 people. Programs and major focus include but are not limited to:
- Fisheries (stream restoration, native species protection, scientific data collection)
- Wildlife (wildlife monitoring, habitat enhancement, big game management)
- Air Quality
- Water Resources (water quality standards development and enforcement, invasive species management and predictive lake modelling)
- Hazardous Waste Management (restoration of injured resources, LMP implementation)
- Shoreline Protection (shoreline debris management)
- Forestry and Fire Management (forest health, fire prevention and suppression)
- Pesticides Enforcement (education and enforcement)
- Lands and Realty
- Environmental Planning (coordination of environmental work on and off the Coeur d’Alene Reservation)
- Recreation Management (including operation and management for the Trail of the Coeur d’Alene and Camp Larsen).
In closing, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe has taken on the leadership role as steward of their homeland’s natural elements. In order to protect and restore the waters and lands, the Tribe has engage in a spectrum of efforts from litigation to cooperative agreements. The Tribe’s unwavering dedication to it stewardship responsibilities stems from the creators’ gift of their Land and surrounding homeland.