“H2know: Our Spokane River Is Low!”


Water Awareness Campaign launched in Spokane this week

kids news conference JO photo 8-5-2015

During this summer of drought, river advocates are highlighting the message: conserve water to protect our Spokane River. (CELP photo)

This morning, where the aquifer springs bubble up and flow into the Spokane River near the TJ Meenach bridge, a concerned group of Spokane citizens launched, “H2KNOW: Our Spokane River is Low!” a public awareness campaign that highlights the critical relationship between human water usage, the aquifer and the flow of the Spokane River.

Campaign co-organizer John Osborn, a Spokane physician and conservationist, as well as CELP’s Board Chair, reached down and scooped up aquifer-spring water and said, “Nearly every bucket of this aquifer water we use is a bucket that doesn’t flow into the Spokane River.” Pouring the water back into the River, Osborn encouraged, “While we should conserve water anyway, we have a very special reason to use water wisely: when we pump our aquifer, we rob our river. That’s why we created H2KNOW public awareness campaign to help save our Spokane River.”

Spokane citizens are encouraged to visit for more information and tips on how conserve water in and around our homes, especially this summer.

H2KNOW aims to educate and motivate Spokane-area citizens about the low river flow that has been brought on very early this summer due to low snow and record-high heat. Osborn noted that water levels are approaching record lows, and it’s only early August.

John Roskelley, former Spokane County Commissioner and clean water advocate (and CELP board member) spoke to the economic and recreational loss that is tied to the River’s low flow, “The Spokane River is what our quality of life is all about,” he said. “This is not just about today or tomorrow, but about this community’s future. The river drives a great deal of our economy from tourism to industry and impacts small businesses and home owners. Near nature; near perfect is not just a slogan, but a way of life here and the river has a great deal to do with it.”

billboard JO photo 8-5-2015

In Spokane, seven billboards were posted this week as part of a public education campaign to conserve water to help the Spokane River at extremely low flows. (CELP photo)

“H2KNOW” billboards appeared around Spokane beginning Friday, August 1st. One version reads, “Know the Flow – River Running Low,” with a tied-off garden hose and dry rock in the river. Another features a snake-like coiled garden hose and a great blue heron with the question, “Is Your Hose Draining Her Habitat?”

Tina Wynecoop, whose husband is a Spokane Tribe of Indians elder, noted the tremendous efforts to clean up Spokane River pollution and the need now to focus on protecting the river’s flow. “The river is gasping for water. Especially during this year of drought, we need to protect the aquifer that gives the river its ‘breath.’”

With the H2KNOW campaign officially launched, organizers are now actively forming alliances with stakeholders, scheduling speaking opportunities, and most of all, will continue working with a person-to-person approach to increasing public awareness.  John Osborn wrapped up today’s campaign kickoff event by calling on all Spokane-area citizens to “think about our Spokane River and wildlife who depend on these waters every time you turn on a water faucet.”

The campaign is supported by Upper Columbia River Group of Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, and the Columbia Institute for Water Policy.


Meet John Roskelley – CELP Board Member

Water advocate, legendary mountaineer, and author, John Roskelley has a long history of public service and joined the CELP board in the fall of 2014.  He has also served on the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the Growth Management Hearings Board, and as a Spokane County Commissioner. John’s latest book is Paddling the Columbia: A guide to all 1,200 miles of our scenic and historical river.  John is especially interested in removing dams, and in restoring health to the Columbia River and its tributaries. In the photo to the left, he is fishing with son Jess.

John Roskelley near Mica Dam on Kinbasket Lake - Joyce Roskelley

John Roskelley near Mica Dam on Kinbasket Lake – Photo by Joyce Roskelley

How did you first become aware of/involved with CELP?

I first became aware of CELP after following the group’s legal actions to protect in-stream flows on the Spokane River and during the relicensing of the Post Falls Dam. I also attended a Winter Waters event.

What’s your first memory of being aware of water conservation, or conservation in general?

As a member of the Spokane Mountaineers and mountain climber for the past 50 years, it feels as though I have always been involved in some conservation activity or another. My first involvement in conservation work was in 1966 when I wrote my first letter asking Congress to create the North Cascades National Park. As I climbed throughout the world, I was always conscious of “leave no trace” and protecting the natural resources of the countries I visited. In 1986, I volunteered for a month to eliminate feral sheep off Santa Cruz Island for the Nature Conservancy. As a Spokane County Commissioner from 1995-2004, I was able to influence many environmental decisions in our county, including a more restrictive critical area ordinance and pass one of the better county comprehensive plans under GMA in the state. During my commissioner years and while on the Eastern Washington Growth Management Board, I was selected to sit on the first Salmon Recovery Funding Board; the Nature Conservancy Board; and the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Board.

What do you find most challenging about protecting water in Washington?

In my opinion, the most challenging aspect of protecting water in Washington is the blatant disregard for rules and regulations of the state by agricultural interests; the minor slaps on the wrist for industrial and municipality pollution; and the refusal of the DOE to enforce the law.

What do you wish other people knew about CELP or water conservation generally?

Water conservation can only be achieved through educating our youth. Environmental issues classes, like water conservation, should be a part of the K-12 curriculum to catch them early and often. We have to hope that with each generation more and more people will know better than to pollute or waste this precious resource.

If you could change one thing about CELP, what would it be?

If I could change one thing it would be the name. Better name recognition means more money; more money means more lawyers; more lawyers mean better compliance, whether through court orders or fear of being sued.

What’s your personal philosophy on what should be done about water conservation?

It’s a battle we have to win. There is no other option. We have to enlist everyone involved in water use and educate them to the seriousness of continuing along the path we’ve been on.

Why are you supporting CELP as opposed to other groups working on water conservation?

I support CELP because this environmental group has a hammer – litigation – and isn’t afraid to use it frequently. Sometimes there is no other option to overcoming political pandering; corporate greed; and just plain ignorance than a good old fashioned lawsuit.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming involved with CELP?

Becoming involved with CELP is money and time well spent for their future and that of their kids and grandkids.

What do you do when you aren’t volunteering for CELP?

When I’m not volunteering for CELP, I’m finishing up the landscaping around our new home and planning my next project, which this summer is paddling the Snake River from source to mouth, a journey of 1100 miles. Like my paddle down the Columbia River, I plan to write another guide book despite the fact it’s a labor of love and not a lot of money.

Washington Water Watch – March 2015 Edition

Columbia River, Hanford Reach - no credit

Hanford Reach of Columbia River

Don’t miss our March edition of Washington Water Watch!

Click here to see the PDF version of our newsletter.

This month you’ll find articles about CELP’s recent victory in our Spokane River PCB challenge, the positive outcome of our Columbia River challenge, updates on other water issues and the Legislative session, an introduction to our new Development and Outreach Coordinator, and more.

If you aren’t already signed up to receive our monthly newsletter, sign up at the bottom of the page.

CELP prevails! Federal Court rules that Spokane River PCB Cleanup is Not Adequate

Spokane Falls

Spokane Falls

In Spokane, the U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein issued a decision today in the matter of Sierra Club and Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) versus U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The Court ruled that EPA abused its discretion in agreeing to allow a polluter-dominated committee process substitute for a cleanup plan for Spokane River PCBs.  Sierra Club & CELP filed the citizen lawsuit against EPA in 2011.  The Spokane Tribe of Indians intervened in support of the lawsuit, and the Department of Ecology, Spokane County and Kaiser intervened to defend EPA.

“Today is a good day for the Spokane River,” said Matt Wynne, Spokane Tribal Councilman and Chairman of Upper Columbia United Tribes.  “Judge Rothstein confirmed that delay in cleaning up the River is unacceptable, and found that deadlines and pollution limits are necessary.”

In 2011, the Washington Department of Ecology reversed course and 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.

“The Spokane River is Washington’s most polluted river when it comes to PCBs,” said Rachael Osborn, senior policy adviser for the CELP and Spokane River Project Coordinator for Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group.  “Obtaining a PCB cleanup plan is essential to public health and especially important for people who eat fish from the Spokane River, including immigrant populations and Spokane Tribal members.”

“After years of delay on the part of the agencies, the Court today rejected the state’s ‘fox in chicken coop’ strategy of putting the polluters in charge of a cleanup plan,” Osborn continued, “Instead, the Court has ruled that a real cleanup plan, prepared within a reasonable timeframe, is required.”


Today’s federal court decision finds that the Task Force is not a proper substitute for a Clean Water Act mandated TMDL, stating (at page 21):

There comes a point at which continual delay of a prioritized TMDL and detours to illusory alternatives ripen into a constructive submission that no action will be taken.  With the Task Force as presently proposed, Ecology is coming dangerously close to such a point, and with EPA’s support.   Accordingly, the Court finds that the EPA acted contrary to law in finding the Task Force, as it is currently comprised and described, a suitable “alternative” to the TMDL.

The court decision also dictates next steps, ordering EPA to report back to the Court within 120 days with a specific plan to complete a PCB TMDL (at page 22):

. . . EPA shall work with Ecology to create a definite schedule with concrete goals, including: clear statements on how the Task Force will assist in creating a PCB TMDL in the Spokane River by reducing scientific uncertainty; quantifiable metrics to measure progress toward that goal; regular checkpoints at which Ecology and the EPA will evaluate progress; a reasonable end date, at which time Ecology will finalize and submit the TMDL for the EPA’s approval or disapproval; and firm commitments to reduce PCB production from known sources in the interim.


PCBs are a group of industrial compounds associated with liver dysfunction and cancer, and are now banned in the United States.   Washington State recognizes that the Spokane River is impaired for PCBs.  The Department of Ecology issues pollution permits (known as NPDES permits) to companies (such as Inland Empire Paper and Kaiser) and municipalities, allowing them to pollute the Spokane River up to certain thresholds.

The federal Clean Water Act requires a clean-up plan (called a TMDL or “total maximum daily load”) before issuing any permits that would add more PCBs to the Spokane River.  The Washington Department of Ecology is attempting to side-step the law by not preparing a PCB cleanup plan, and issuing NPDES permits anyway.

Sierra Club and CELP are also defending their victory in their 2011 challenge to the pollution discharge permit issues to Spokane County’s new sewage treatment plant.  In 2013, the Pollution Control Hearing Board (PCHB) ruled that the “state of the art” plant was discharging PCBs and had the potential to violate state and tribal water quality standards.  The PCHB directed Ecology to issue a new permit with appropriate pollution limits.  Instead of issuing such permit, Ecology and Spokane County appealed the matter to Thurston County Superior Court.  That court affirmed the PCHB in the fall of 2014.  Ecology and the County recently appealed the matter to the Court of Appeals.  The County continues to operate the plant, and to discharge PCBs into the Spokane River.

Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Richard Smith of Smith & Lowney, a Seattle firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation.

Links –

Documents –

Spokane River Rule Summary Comments (preliminary)

On Friday, November 7, we completed the first phase of our campaign to persuade the Department of Ecology to adopt an instream flow rule for the Spokane River that protects all uses of the river. This involved turning out substantial and meaningful public comment on the draft rule. Thank you to the hundreds of people and groups who participated. We await the Department of Ecology’s decision. (Please note: If you submitted a comment and are not listed here, please e-mail your comments to  click here to view report

For side-by-side comparisons of flows at key locations in the Spokane River, click here.
Which do you prefer? 
Spokane River flows 2500-1000cfs
2500 cubic feet per second (cfs) supported by river advocates.        Or, 1000 cfs?
The Dept of Ecology proposal is even less:  850 cfs.


Spokane River Flow Comments

To submit a comment on the proposed rule for Spokane River flows, click here for Ecology’s on-line form, or e-mail your comments to

The Dept. of Ecology needs to hear that:
  • The proposed flows are unacceptable.
  • It is imperative to study flows for recreation and scenic beauty.
  • Fish studies must be tailored to the Spokane’s unique habitat and redband trout species.
  • This rule has interstate water allocation consequences – what are they?
  • You care about the Spokane River, Washington’s instream flow program, and the future of our rivers.
For more information, see CELP’s latest Washington Water Watch, preliminary comments, and talking points.
For side-by-side comparisons of flows at key locations in the Spokane River, click here.
Which do you prefer? 
Spokane River flows 2500-1000cfs
2500 cubic feet per second (cfs) supported by river advocates.        Or, 1000 cfs?
The Dept of Ecology proposal is even less:  850 cfs.