Website Contents

Sewage in the News
Q & A on phosphorus
Sierra Club Proposal
Clean Water Act
- Documents
- Abbreviations

Related websites

- Phosphate Ban
Sewage Overflows

Algae bloom, Lake Spokane             Spokane’s wastewater treatment plant         click on map to enlarge

Spokane River cleanup

This summer’s toxic algae bloom in Lake Spokane was a wake-up call about the pressing need to clean up the Spokane River.  Despite years of planning, we have yet to come up with an honest approach to clean up our severely polluted River.

Since 1998, the Department of Ecology has been trying to adopt a clean-up plan to control phosphorus and other oxygen-eating pollutants in the Spokane River.  Eleven years is a long time.  Sierra Club has stuck with it, repeatedly calling out the flaws in various draft plans (issued in 2004, 2007 and 2008) and pushing the state to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

In September 2009, Ecology issued the latest version of the Spokane River Dissolved Oxygen cleanup plan.  Sadly, Draft No. 4 still contained fatal flaws.

Sierra Club is your advocate for restoring the Spokane River to health.  Please e-mail John Osborn, chair of the Upper Columbia River Group if you would like to discuss the Spokane River DO cleanup plan or other matters pertaining to the River.  Sierra Club has been on the front lines of Spokane River cleanup for many years and we will stick with until it’s done right!

Background on Draft #4 of the Dissolved Oxygen TMDL

    The cleanup plan -- referred to as a “total maximum daily load” (TMDL) – will guide how pollution dischargers improved oxygen concentrations in the Spokane River.  To avoid risking hundreds of millions of dollars spent on inadequate wastewater technology, the TMDL must comply with federal laws.  To be clear, the polluters include the City of Spokane and Liberty Lake wastewater treatement plants, Kaiser, Inland Empire Paper, and Spokane County’s proposed new plant.

    The latest draft TMDL has changed.  Dischargers dumping to the Spokane River must meet hard pollution targets.  The plan calls for water conservation and reducing “non-point” pollution – all good.   But in other respects, the 2009 plan is even worse than previous drafts.

1)  False Pollution Credits.

a)    Tributary streams are being asked to give too much.

    The draft plan claims credit for cleaning up the Little Spokane River and Hangman Creek.  But the Little Spokane River is aquifer-fed during summer months, and phosphorus is at natural background levels.  The plan calls for 36% clean-up – an impossible target.  Hangman Creek cleanup is equally unrealistic.  These tributary pollution targets are not realistic – but on paper the draft plan claims tributary credits to relax pollution limits for the sewage and industrial dischargers.

b)    Assigning cleanup to Avista should not get the polluters off the hook. 

    The draft plan also relaxes pollution quotas for the sewage and industrial plants by shifting major cleanup responsibility to Avista.   But Avista has been saddled with a huge cleanup quota that cannot be met.  Let’s be clear, Sierra Club has long called for Avista responsibility to improve dissolved oxygen.  But this plan gives the dischargers a green light to make major investments in substandard technology based on unrealistic assignments to Avista.   It’s a shell game and it won’t clean up the river.

c)    Reasonable Assurance It Ain’t.

    The Spokane River cleanup plan must demonstrate “reasonable assurance” that water quality standards can be met.  Because of the false tributary and Avista credits described above, that reasonable assurance is missing.

    Tell Ecology there is no reasonable assurance and that they are giving the polluters a break that will not work for the cleaning up the Spokane River!

2) Septic Deception:

The County Continues to Hold the Aquifer Hostage

    Removing septic tanks from the Aquifer is good, but will not reduce phosphorus loading to the Spokane River.  The draft plan would allow Spokane County to stick another pipe into the River and discharge from its new sewage plant based on the incorrect assumption that septic removal equates to phoshorus reduction in the River..  As Sierra Club has always said – Spokane County is holding the Spokane Aquifer hostage to the Spokane River.  Tell them to let our aquifer go!

3)  No “TMDL” in the TMDL.

    Despite the name “total maximum daily load,” Draft No. 4 does not actually identify the total amount of pollution that can be discharged into the river.

    Incredible!  Even the most basic requirement of the cleanup planning process has not been met.  The draft plan contains no identification of how much pollution is coming across the state line from Idaho, no identification of the total loading from the tributaries, and no identification of the total amount that the Spokane River and Lake Spokane can handle.  Contrast this draft with the 2004 TMDL (which Sierra Club approved of) which provided a month-by-month allocation of acceptable pollution loads.

4)  Delay – Delay – Delay.

    The Spokane River has waited 11 years for a legally sufficient phosphorus clean-up plan. This draft, the fourth, allows dischargers another 10 years (or more) to comply with the plan.  This strategy of delay is harming the Spokane River and the fish and wildlife that depend on the river.

5)    What About PCBs?

    The clean-up plans for phosphorus and PCBs must connect.  When dischargers install expensive technology to remedy phosphorus, that technology must also cleanup PCBs.  The public will pay dearly if these two plans do not coordinate.

6)    Water Quality Monitoring is Essential!

    Lake Spokane resident Scott Chaney watched a toxic algae bloom into a monster.  He called the Departments of Ecology and Health – but no agency would claim responsibility for monitoring whether water quality problems might harm the public.  Scott had to pay to ship samples to Seattle.  Only after the lab reported high toxicity did Ecology issue a public health warning.

Electronic copies of the latest draft cleanup plan can be downloaded at:

click for these reports:

-     Death of the Spokane River?
-     America’s 6th Most Endangered River

  New !

Spokane sewer rates to rise.

Spokesman-Review, Dec. 22, 2009

Cleaner River worth the cost. Spokesman-Review, Dec. 20, 2009