Spokane Riverkeeper has been hard at work over the past few months putting together comments (see link at bottom) on draft National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits for three dischargers on the Spokane River – City of Liberty Lake Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP), City of Spokane WWTP and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), and Kaiser Aluminum, LLC. Our comments on these permits reflect the need for strong limits on pollutants entering our river.
The NPDES was established by the Clean Water Act as a program to control the amount of pollution discharged into bodies of water. The original architects envisioned achieving fishable, swimmable waters across the nation by 1987. The word “elimination” is of specific importance; the system was established with the intent that discharges would ultimately be eradicated. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states only 31% of the nation’s rivers are actually monitored for water quality. Of those rivers monitored or tracked, only 55% are clean enough to for others to swim or fish.
Permits, such as those addressed in our comments, provide timelines and limits on the pollutants discharged into the Spokane River. Large pollutants of particular attention are the nutrient total phosphorus and toxic chemicals like PCBs. However, additional pollutants have a strong presence – examples being pharmaceuticals and fire retardants – and consequences we do not yet fully understand. The regulation of all of these pollutants is important because toxins bioaccumulate in the food chain, creating alterations in the eco-balance.
These permits have strong total phosphorus limits and numerical limits proposed for PCBs that will put the river into compliance with water quality standards by 2026. We support the numbers in these permits and in fact, both total phosphorus and the numerical PCB limits in these permits are essential for a clean river. Without these numerical limits, these permits would not provide assurance that we will get to a clean river. Riverkeeper participates with Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force (SRRTTF) that is designing a plan to get our river to the Water Quality Standard (WQS) for PCBs. For this Task Force to be legitimate, it must make “measurable progress” in cleaning up PCBs in the river. Riverkeeper maintains the belief that permits are an essential part of making “measurable progress” inside the SRRTTF.
The comment period for these permits is currently closed, but NPDES Permits for Inland Empire Paper and Spokane County will open for public comment in draft form this Fall. Information on these will be sent your way via Facebook and email alerts!
Check out our comments here: waterkeeper-tlc-npdes-comments
A huge thanks to our intern Rachel Fricke for writing this blog.