riverkeeper

Reducing Pollution One Permit at a Time

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.

jerry-working

The Spokane Riverkeeper reads and comments on discharge permits, asking for less pollution to be dumped into 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.

bioaccumulation-pcbs

Bioaccumulation of PCBs in the Puget Sound. Toxins magnify up the food chain, with dire consequences for those at the top (including humans).

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.

Spokane’s Solution to Combined Sewage Overflows

A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of touring a Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) tank currently being constructed underneath Pettit Drive (better known as Doomsday Hill). The City’s investment in multiple tanks similar to the one pictured below is preventing millions of gallons of combined sewage and stormwater overflow from ending up in our river.  This project and ones like it are great news for the health of the Spokane River.

jule-in-cso-tank

Riverkeeper technical lead, Jule Schultz, stands in the CSO tank at the top of Doomsday Hill.

So what are CSOs, and why do they exist in the first place? When Spokane’s sewer system was initially installed in the late 1800s, sewage and stormwater were removed via a singular pipe system, and all pipes drained directly into the Spokane River or Hangman Creek (!). A Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) was installed by 1958 with a capacity of 50 million gallons a day (mgd). Sewage and wastewater that were treated discharged into the river. However, on days when flow exceeds the WWTP’s maximum capacity– typically a result of precipitation or rapid snowmelt – runoff overwhelms the ability of the WWTTP to handle this combined sewage and stormwater. On these days, the excess combined pollution flows into the River before reaching the sewage treatment plant, hence the term Combined Sewage Overflow (see figure below).

cso-diagram

Figure 1. A typical CSO which sends sewage to be treated at the Wastewater Treatment Plant during dry weather, but diverts sewage to the river during wet weather. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia).

Though our sewage treatment plant’s capacity has increased to a present-day maximum capacity of 150 million gallons per day, CSOs continue to occur, albeit at significantly reduced numbers. The City’s 2015 annual report found that 54 million gallons of untreated combined sewage and stormwater was discharged into the river.

cso-tank-diagram

Figure 2. A typical CSO storage tank adds capacity to a sewer system and reduces sewage flowing to the river. (Image courtesy of King County).

To further combat CSOs, in 2005 the City of Spokane initiated a plan calling for the addition of CSO control facilities to the city’s sewer system. These control facilities are large, underground concrete tanks. In the event of an excessive flow, CSO tanks temporarily store combined sewage and stormwater until flow has decreased to the point where the treatment facility has the capacity to process the stored overflow. The tank we toured under Doomsday will have a capacity of 694,000 gallons.

Currently, 11 CSO tanks are operating with a total combined volume of 3,598,300 gallons, but during the duration of a storm, they can redirect much more combined sewage than that (Figure 3 below). For example, a December 2015 four tanks diverted 4.2 million gallons! With the completion of all tanks under construction and in design, there will ultimately be 24 tanks with a combined capacity of 14,579,300 gallons. This should essentially eliminate CSO outfalls into the river, ensuring cleaner water for humans and wildlife. For more information on CSOs, see the City’s CSO Overview/Monthly Reports, 2015 CSO Annual Report, 2005 CSO Plan Amendment, and Integrated Clean Water Plan.

three-days-in-a-cso-tank

A huge thanks to Rachel Fricke, our intern, for writing this blog.

In Hot Water: A Preview of Water Temperatures in the Spokane Watershed, 2016

Rachel Fricke, a Spokane native who comes to us from the University of Southern California, is our Fall Intern. Below, she discusses our recent summer temperature findings.

paddling-hangman1

Hangman Creek in the Palouse region of Whitman County, WA. Note the complete lack of streamside vegetation that should provide shade from the summer sunshine.

 

For the past month, I’ve had the pleasure of running around the Spokane River watershed collecting and recording data from temperature loggers that were placed back in June. Why does Riverkeeper care about temperature? Though temperature is not a physical or chemical pollutant, it has a direct impact on the organisms inhabiting our river and its tributaries.

The majority of freshwater-dwellers are cold-blooded, meaning their internal body temperature aligns with the temperature of their external environment. Should these organism’s internal temperatures become too hot, their cells begin to die, eventually causing mortality. Redband trout, a prominent species in the Spokane River ecosystem, live and spawn at an optimum temperature of 57.2° F. They can withstand temperature variances of a few degrees, but will not occupy regions where water temperature is significantly higher than optimum.

Our summer loggers from the Spokane River showed that temperatures reached their highest (~83° F) at the Harvard and Barker Road bridge crossings. This makes sense because these locations are upriver from where groundwater from the aquifer – which is cooler than surface water – begins feeding into the river. Further downriver at TJ Meenach we recorded a high of 63°F – a habitable temperature for Redband.

river-temps-2016

Summer 2016 Spokane River water temperature. An upcoming post will look at these temperatures in depth.

On Hangman Creek, our loggers recorded significantly elevated temperatures. At the mouth, where Hangman flows into the Spokane, temperatures peaked at 79° F.  Just downstream from Tekoa at Waverly we recorded our highest water temperatures from the entire watershed – a whopping 84° F.

Hangman’s banks in this region have little to no riparian cover, also referred to as streamside forestation. Plant growth alongside streams is essential for healthy stream temperatures as it shades creek water. Hangman Creek’s current conditions in the Waverly area leave creek water directly exposed to the Palouse’s intense summer sun and heat, resulting in heightened water temperatures.

Check back within the coming weeks for a comprehensive report of this year’s temperature and water quality data. For more information on Redband trout, the Western Native Trout Initiative is a great reference.

paddling-hangman-2

A kayaker observes the lack of riparian cover on Hangman Creek in April, 2016.

 

A Message from Will the Intern

Will Tender, a student at Redlands College, interned for us this summer.  He volunteered his time hauling heavy loads of garbage and helping with our water quality monitoring program.  I asked him to write a short summary of what he did this summer (that’s him in the blue PFD).  13312662_1005810499455217_1208258925092673815_n

This summer I was given the opportunity to be an intern for the Spokane Riverkeeper. Throughout the experience I learned a lot about the Spokane River and Watershed. Pretty much every day I was in the field, working right beside the river. We rafted the river about once a week picking up several hundreds of pounds of garbage each day. Days we didn’t raft we would take groups out alongside the shore to pick up trash, go on water quality runs, place temperature loggers into the Watershed to help monitor the health of various spots on the river, as well as a variety of other tasks.

13507090_1024439490925651_2283164362271327934_nRafting at least once a week for 3 months gives you a newfound respect and appreciation for the river. It really showed me that preservation should be taken very seriously, as something so beautiful and natural should be protected from industrialization and unnecessary pollution.

The other aspect of this experience that really altered my views was how the Riverkeeper wants people to use the river. Initially, when I began this experience I wasn’t sure the program’s stance on public usage. I thought that public usage was potentially a primary source of pollution. I came to find out that a good deal of the frequent rafters and tubers are very respectful of the river and strive to protect it. A really cool aspect of the Riverkeeper is how supportive they are of the public users, and how the program not only supports, but encourages everyone to experience the river.

Overall this opportunity opened my eyes to what goes into monitoring and protecting nature as a whole. There are so many different components that need to be addressed, and so many different players that need to be factored into the equation. This internship has been a real mentality changing experience, and I am grateful for the opportunity.

New CAFO Draft Fails to Protect Water Quality

Although there are few if any CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) in the Spokane River Watershed, this is an extremely important issue when it comes to our statewide water quality!

Cow pic

The issue:

There are over 400 industrial dairy operations that run over 200,000 dairy cows throughout Washington state. These industrial dairy operations generate over 20 million pounds of untreated manure per day! This manure ends up in unlined lagoons, causing the groundwater in these areas to become seriously contaminated. When this contamination occurs it worsens our overall water quality resulting in unsafe drinking water and damage to nearby river ecosystems. Many farmers try to dispose of manure by over-applying manure onto their fields, however the excess then runs off into our rivers and creeks destroying aquatic life.

Unfortunately due to the strong influence big Agriculture seems to be having on the decision making of the Washington State Department of Ecology, the new draft permit is not sufficient in handling this issue.

The permit will inevitably fail to protect our waterways, this is why we need your help!

How you can help:

Help protect these fragile ecosystems by sending your comments to the Washington Department of Ecology.

In order to fully protect the public, and local wildlife from the dangerous pollutants currently in our waterways, Ecology must incorporate the following provisions in its final permit:

  • Mandatory groundwater monitoring
  • Science-based manure application requirements and restrictions
  • Science-based riparian (stream side vegetation) buffers for salmon-bearing stream
  • Implementation of best technology for CAFO operations such as synthetically-lined manure lagoons and other known and reasonably available technologies to eliminate discharges to surface and groundwater

For more information on the issue visit the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.

Public hearings will be held on Tuesday July 26, 2016 at 6:00 pm at Whatcom Community College and Thursday July 28, 2016 at 6:00 pm at the Yakima Convention Center. Ecology will also be holding a webinar on the draft permit on Wednesday July 27 at 2:00 pm.

Please send your comments to Governor Inslee as well so he understands the publics’ concern in regards to this issue.

Riverkeeper: Standing with Mosier, OR – Testimony Supporting Halt to Oil Train Traffic

Spokane City Council takes the Courageous Stand to Call for Stop to Oil Train Traffic over our Spokane River and through Spokane, WA

 

Jerry at City CounselThis past Monday, Jerry White, our Spokane Riverkeeper, gave testimony at the Spokane City Council meeting regarding a resolution (2016-0056) in response to the recent oil train derailment and fire in Mosier, Oregon. The resolution was passed and can be read in full below. Last Friday, 16 cars from a 96-car train transporting highly flammable Bakken crude oil derailed in the Columbia River Gorge city of Mosier, Oregon. Four of the cars then caught fire sending massive amounts of smoke into the air. About a quarter of Mosier residents were evacuated, as well as 100 students from the local school that stands only 200 feet from the site of the flaming oil. Union Pacific Railroad and the city of Mosier agree that the damage from the crash could have been even more catastrophic if the wind speed had been at the usual 25 mile per hour rate that afternoon.

Jerry began his testimony by explaining that the Union Pacific Railroad has “pushed aside the derailed oil tanker cars and begun running train traffic while the burnt cars continue to smolder.” Voicing his grave concern for this reckless and unacceptable behavior, he continued to explain that the evacuated families had not yet returned home and measures had not yet been taken to clean up the spill when Union Pacific made this decision. In conclusion Jerry made clear that “the Spokane Riverkeeper stands with the city of Mosier and their Columbia River, and supports their request for a temporary halt in train traffic.” As a community voice for the river, Jerry and all of us here at the Center for Justice support this resolution and find it to be a reasonable short term response to an industry that appears to be out of control and out of touch with the norms of corporate and community responsibility.

In the end, the Spokane City Council, under the leadership of City Council President Ben Stuckart, took a courageous stance and passed Resolution 2016-0056, calling for the halt to oil train traffic through our city and over our river.  We thank them for their leadership and vision in the face of this issue.

Read Jerry’s full testimony below:

“It has come to our attention that in Mosier, Oregon the Union Pacific Railroad has now pushed has aside the derailed oil tanker cars and begun running train traffic while the burnt cars still smoulder. This is happening before many evacuated families have even returned to their homes. We know that oil reached the river, leaving state officials to initiate clean-up efforts. This reeks of a “business as usual” ethos on the part of Union Pacific that is absolutely unacceptable. This is particularly outrageous in light of the fact that we do yet understand the nature of the derailment. The Spokane Riverkeeper stands with the city Mosier and their Columbia River, and supports their request for a temporary halt in train traffic. Under 49 U.S.C. 5121(d), the United States Department of Transportation has the authority to declare an emergency prohibition of future oil train shipments through Mosier until it is proven to be safe for renewed rail traffic. We understand that Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, Governor Kate Brown and Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici released the following statement today calling for a temporary halt to oil train traffic in Columbia River Gorge Saying that, and I Quote, “They (the people of Mosier, Oregon) deserve to know that the causes of this derailment have been both identified and fixed, and there should be a moratorium on oil train traffic until they get those explanations and assurances” This terrifying incident is a mere warning of the catastrophic risks that huge segments of our community have been demanding action on for months. In light of proposed oil by rail facilities on Washington’s West side, Spokane will continue to bare the risk of oil fires in our river, spills in our community, in our river and over our drinking water. We bare the risk while the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroads reap the profits of this traffic. This is in, and of itself, is outrageous. As a community voice for the river, I absolutely support this resolution which is a sane and reasonable short term response to an industry that appears to be out of control and out of touch with the norms of corporate and community responsibility.”

Find the full resolution by City Council in the link below:

OilTrainsResFinal

For additional information on the train derailment, check out these links:

CNN

Climate Progress

ABC News

Oregon Live

Spokane Riverkeeper Announces “River Partners”

RiverPartnerLogo-with-words-on-bottom

Spokane Riverkeeper is dedicated to protecting and restoring the health of the Spokane River Watershed. The Spokane Riverkeeper River Partners Program celebrates the value added to our community and economy by the Spokane River. Quality of life and the health of the economy and local businesses are related to the health of the environment. The River Partners Program provides an opportunity for businesses to become involved with the Riverkeeper program and increases the community awareness of the integral role of the Spokane River to our city. The program helps broaden and diversify the support base for Spokane Riverkeeper and creates an attitude of community stewardship towards the Spokane River.

Businesses who join the Spokane Riverkeeper River Partners Program sign a pledge agreeing to the following statements:

  • A healthy, swimmable and fishable Spokane River is good for our local community and our economic environment.
  • Accessing and recreating on the river is an important part of the cultural and economic life of our community.
  • Respecting other river users and holding professional standards with respect to health and safety of those who live, play and work on the river is a priority.
  • Adopting water friendly business practices is an essential part of conducting business.
  • We are committed to keeping out river clean and safe, respecting the contributions a healthy river makes to our community.
  • We will connect the customers we serve with the health and beauty of our river and conduct business in a manner that demonstrates respect for the Spokane River.

In addition to signing this pledge, program members are connected with other Riverkeeper partners and receive media exposure for their businesses at Riverkeeper events as well as regular Riverkeeper updates.

Spokane businesses who are among the first to participate in the program include Numerica Credit Union, Silver Bow Fly Shop, FLOW Adventures, Kizuri, Ammonite Ink, and River City Brewing. Members have the opportunity to engage with the Riverkeeper program in four different areas:

  1. Financial Engagement (the giving of monetary resources)
  2. Policy/Program Support (includes attending meetings and signing on to letters)
  3. River Healthy Practices (adopting policies that favor the Spokane River)
  4. Volunteer/Time (participating in Riverkeeper events including the river clean-up)

The wellbeing of the environment is directly linked to wellbeing of the economy and the community in general. Jake Krummel, the Downtown Market Manager for Spokane Numerica Credit Union, stated that “The health of our local watersheds has a direct impact on the health of our community and our local environment. The advocacy and education efforts of the Spokane Riverkeeper showcase the importance of keeping our river clean, and are something Numerica is proud to support.” Participating in the Riverkeeper River Partners Program is an excellent way to protect the Spokane River, grow a business and contribute to increasing the quality of life in the Spokane community. To become a partner, please contact Jerry White at (509) 835-5211 or [email protected].

Find out more about River Partners here.

Riverkeeper Comments on Fish Consumption Rule

The Spokane Riverkeeper recently submitted oral comments to Ecology regarding their new fish consumption rule.  Although the rule is improved from previous versions, it is still lacking.  Standards for mercury, PCB’s, and Arsenic are still too high and the inclusion of variances, increased compliance schedules, and and intake credits further weaken the rule.  Read on for the full story:

Oral Comments on WDOE Proposed Fish Consumption Rule – April 6, 2016

The following comments are made with regards to the proposed Washington Department of Ecology Fish Consumption Rule.  These comments were prepared by the Spokane Riverkeeper and read by myself,  _______________ on behalf of the Spokane Riverkeeper.  The Spokane Riverkeeper is a project of the Center for Justice, and we are an affiliated member of the Waterkeeper Alliance.  We work to protect and restore the world’s waters so that they are healthy and usable by communities that interact with them.  As such, the Spokane Riverkeeper’s stated mission is keeping the Spokane River Fishable and Swimmable.

The rule change that the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has proposed takes several steps in the right direction, but falls short in helping us keep our Spokane River “Fishable” for the public.

  1. Ecology’s proposed rule has improved the fish consumption formula over the existing rule. The formula assumes a more realistic consumption rate of 175g of fish per/day while keeping the acceptable human health risk at 1 case of cancer in a million fish-eating residents.  These standards would make Washington’s waters cleaner and its fish safer to eat.  We commend Ecology for listening to the public and changing their proposed rules to be more realistic and more protective of human health.
  2. However, we encourage Ecology to review and revise their rule with regards to Mercury, PCBs and Arsenic. The proposed rule is not strong enough with regards to these toxins.  All of these toxins bio-accumulate and bio-magnify in the food chain in such a way that makes Spokane River fish problematic to consume.  In some cases, fish in the Spokane River are edible under the specific amounts and frequencies recommended in Dept of Health fish advisories.  But depending on the age, species and river reach, many other types of fish too toxic to eat.  The standards for PCBs are still exceeded in some fish and statewide mercury advisory remains in place making their consumption extremely problematic for pregnant women, children and folks who for cultural and economic reasons consume far more than the recommended allowance.  Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put forward PCB standards that are more protective and more up to date.  We feel strongly that The EPA guidelines should be followed.
  3. Additionally, we feel that the EPA standards for both arsenic and methyl mercury should be adopted. We understand that these toxins are tough to capture, but feel strongly that inaction is not a solution. Using the older National Toxics Rule criteria is not adequate and leaves the public vulnerable to higher levels of these toxins over time.
  4. The proposed rule Increases timeframes for Compliance Schedules which is unacceptable. Using the language “as soon as possible” when refereeing to must meeting water quality standards is too idealistic and vague.   There rule should require concrete time-limits for dischargers to meet state standards to ensure accountability that our waters are clean.
  5. The increased availability and/or potential use of Variances in the proposed rule is unacceptable. Ecology policy should be pushing dischargers to lower their output of dangerous chemicals at the end of pipe, precisely because of the nature and amount of pollution in a water body can be excessive and challenging.  Ecology should not be providing off-ramps from meeting existing standards or providing the designated, attainable uses.
  6. Do not provide intake credits. Incentives should be developed to capture all pollutants coming through the systems that end up in our waters.  Please construct policies that create net decreases in pollutants leaving the end-of-pipes in order to encourage dischargers to work towards cleaning up Washington’s waters.

These comments are made with the idea that we should be working towards the ultimate elimination of discharge to the nation’s rivers.  Ecology’s proposed rule-making should help us get there.  Please do not provide provisions that stall our progress, or avoid the tough work of getting our public waters fishable and swimmable.  Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

Spokane Riverkeeper.

 

(For the readers reference if you need -see http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/ruledev/wac173201A/1203ov.html for comparison)

 

Background links:

EPA/ comparison of proposed WDOE rule and EPA recommendations:

http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/ruledev/wac173201A/1203ov.html

Rulemaking page:

http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/ruledev/wac173201A/1203ov.html

WDOE info on Variances:

http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/swqs/HHCinfo-variances.html

 

How water use affects the Spokane River

We attended the Spokane River Forum Conference last week and learned tons about the unique watershed we work so hard to protect.  One talk stood out for me though and I wanted to share it with you.  John Covert of the Washington State Department of Ecology presented on the relationship between our summertime water use and the flow of the Spokane River.

Slide4

The Spokane Valley – Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer (SVRP) provides drinking water to much of the greater Spokane area via wells drilled throughout the area.

In the Spokane area we get our water from the massive 10 trillion gallon Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie (SVRP) Aquifer which extends from Lake Coeur d’Alene north to Lake Pend Oreille and west to Spokane.  What’s interesting about this is that the river also receives water from the aquifer starting from downstream of the Sullivan Road Bridge.  This cold influx from the SVRP aquifer to the river is what makes our river a great place for our native Redband Trout and  to cool off in the heat of summer. The drought of 2015 allowed scientists to explore the relationship between our water use from the SVRP aquifer and River levels.

This summer was the hottest and driest on record in Spokane.  Summertime river flows were the lowest on record for much of the summer.  It was so dry that the Post Falls dam (yellow dot on map), which usually begins to draw down Lake Coeur d’Alene after Labor Day instead continued to discharge a relative trickle (500 cfs, red line on graph below) into the river throughout September and October.  This had never happened before and allowed us to see a fascinating pattern (see graph below).  Amazingly although the flow over Post Falls dam remained steady, the river began to rise at the gage in downtown Spokane (pink square on map above).  Where is the extra water in the river coming from?

The explanation of this lies in the graph below.  As the City of Spokane (dark blue) decreased their pumping rate the river (green) began to rise.  Near the end of August the City of Spokane began to decrease their pumping rate, eventually reducing it about 70 cubic feet per second (cfs).  The river began to respond in early September, eventually gaining about 90 cfs!  This is approximately 13% of the river flow.  Aquifer wide pumping decreased about 166 cfs during this period.  Due to this reduction in pumping, the aquifer levels actually rose 0.5 ft (6 inches), resulting in more aquifer water discharging to the river.  Comparing the maximum air temp (light blue) with the city pumping rate (dark blue), shows that during hot periods pumping increases.

covert graph

These data show that decreases in water use increase the flow of the Spokane River.  I suspect the variations in pumping rate are due to the typical summertime uses, such as lawn watering, which does not return water to the river.  Most importantly, we have never seen such clear data on how personal water use choices affect our Spokane River.  As summertime river levels continue to drop due to decreasing snow pack (another amazing and scary talk at the conference) and municipal water use continues to grow, our choices regarding water use will have even larger impacts to our river.