Developing Future Riverkeepers

Jerry White helps elementary student cast a fly rod

By Spokane Riverkeeper Jerry White

After-school fly fishing & river education camps have finished up at the West Valley Outdoor Learning Center.  These camps happened because of a successful partnership between Hutton Settlement, Inland Northwest Nature Connection, Spokane Riverkeeper , Spokane Valleyfest and Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation.  Additionally, the Spokane River Forum helped us organize the service portion of the project.  Over the course of a week, the students from Hutton settlement learned a bit about river ecology, macro-invertebrates, native trout and invasive species.  They learned how to tie flies, they participated in the Upriver Scrub picking up garbage along the river, and finally caught some fine hatchery trout from the Mirabeau Parkway pond.  These rainbow trout were left in the pond after the kids fishing day during Valleyfest.  The camp kids helped ensure that these trout would not die during the winter, but be caught, cleaned and eaten for dinner by the kids of Hutton.  Thanks to all for a great experience!

Help us continue our work in the community! Please consider purchasing a Spokane Riverkeeper T-shirt for $25. High quality, Alternative Apparel brand, available in 3 colors- Adult sizes only. For each purchase made, Ammonite Ink will donate $11.20 to Spokane Riverkeeper! 

Quick update on Midnite Mine

Spokane Tribe calls for more time to review Midnite Mine clean-up plan and rally local residents and area citizens to do the same.

Deb Abrahamson, SHAWL Director and myself at one of the pits at Midnite Mine in 2010

Deb Abrahamson, SHAWL Director and myself at one of the pits at Midnite Mine in 2010

For those that aren’t aware or need a refresher, Midnite Mine is an inactive uranium mine on the Spokane Tribe reservation near Wellpinit in Stevens County.  Oh and it sits dangerously close to the Spokane River.   It was listed as a Superfund site on May 11, 2000 due to high levels of radioactivity and heavy metals in acidic drainage that are a threat to human health and the environment.

You may recall back in 2010 I visited the site as one of the first things I did as Spokane Riverkeeper. – http://www.cforjustice.org/2010/08/31/field-trip-to-the-midnite-mine/

At any rate, two weeks ago, members of the Tribe and others from the greater inland Northwest community gathered at the site to call for a thorough cleanup and healing process for all those effected by this mine.

There were two great reports on this.

First, The Spokesman-Review, then a report by Steve Jackson at KPBX.

Has a new bar been set in Spokane?

In case you’ve been hibernating through the winter and spring, there has been a flurry of activity, events, decision and more that have already, and will ultimately drastically alter the way we experience our Spokane River, the way we interact with our Spokane River and the way we understand and care for our Spokane River. To the best of my ability and memory, here it all is.

*** First, and this is far from blog etiquette or effective readership retention strategy, I’m going to strongly suggest, er, require, that you all take a minute to click on this URL (open it in a new tab or window so you come back to this) and bookmark this blog, add it to your RSS feed or blog aggregator or whatever you use and follow “The #spokanerising Project” religiously.  Not since the old days of MetroSpokane has a blog captured my attention, inspired my civic pride and optimistic outlook AND grounded me in reality than The #spokanerising Project.

Now, welcome back to this blog. Which could mean you’re coming back to this post an hour or so after you left and checked out The #spokanerising Project.  I don’t blame you.

So here’s what sparked this thought. Last Sunday afternoon while I was resting following running Bloomsday, I was thinking about how packed that weekend was.

It started with the wildly successful dedication and opening of Huntington Park and the connected and “yet to be named” new Plaza near City Hall (more on this further down, and for the record, my suggestion for the name is “Michael Winslow Plaza”) on Friday, then carried through to the big Expo ’74 Gala on Saturday night and culminated with Bloomsday Sunday and the after-run festivities in Riverfront Park.  By all accounts, it was one giant celebratory weekend in Spokane, filled with something new, something nostalgic and something as consistent as anything you’ll find in any community, anywhere in the world.

Then to cap it all off, Monday evening I attended a Spokane City Council meeting where by unanimous support the Spokane City Council approved moving forward on a $310 million dollar plan to clean up the Spokane River via new treatment technology and improvements at the Wastewater Treatment Facility, new infrastructure to minimize combined sewer overflows and even some stormwater management improvements that the city isn’t currently under regulation or order to do.  Let me say that again.  Spokane City Council voted unanimously to spend $310 million on a plan to clean up the Spokane River.  Regardless of the fact that the current makeup of the council is more ideologically apt to do such a thing.  Last I checked this is still Spokane, oh and it was a unanimous vote.  Again, go look who’s on the council.

So let’s wind it back.


On Friday, the Avista Corporation formerly opened up the new and VERY improved Huntington Park, a wonderfully landscaped park that offers some truly remarkable views of the Spokane River.  Huntington Park has always been a thing, but prior to this face lift, it was an area that though was  accessible and open, always felt like you were trespassing when you went down there.  Now, new signage and wayfinding, a new and additional entrance off the Post Street Bridge, the “front door” treatment provided via Avista’s gift to the City of Spokane and the people by way of the new plaza next to City Hall, and lighting and amenities all make Huntington Park inviting and intriguing.  I truly feel that Avista went above and beyond with the design and implementation of this great park (great job Speed Fitzhugh).  From a cultural, historical and spiritual perspective, Huntington Park is a great nod to the importance of that particular area, a place where generations upon generations of area tribal members gathered and identified as one of the most important locations in the region.  So it was very emotional to be at that location on Friday with some local tribal drummers playing over the roar of the Spokane River, with this beautiful new sculpture looking over the Spokane River.

Here are more thoughts from “The #spokanerising Project on Huntington Park – http://spokanerising.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/huntington-park-and-city-plaza-officially-open-to-the-public/

Saturday brought the excitement and the giddy trip down memory lane (not my memory lane as I wasn’t even close to being born yet) with the big 40th anniversary celebration of Expo ’74 at the Expo ’74 Gala at the Spokane Convention Center.  The Gala was a great reminder of what used to be at what Riverfront Park is now, and just how close this community was to living many more years, or even decades with railroad tracks and parking lots covering the Spokane River.  It’s always great to remember something my good friend Dr. Bill Youngs (the official Expo ’74 historian)  reminds people which is that King Cole would have felt successful in his efforts even if Expo ’74 hadn’t happened.  For him, removing “those damn tracks” from downtown Spokane was a legacy enough for him.  Good thing he didn’t stop there!  Plenty of ink has been spilled on this topic already, and there will be much more to come throughout this celebratory year, so instead of waxing poetic on this topic, I want to direct you to some very good links if you want to stroll down Expo ’74 lane.  And as you’re doing so, just remember how key the River and the environment was and is to all of this.

Below is a great rendering of the famous Expo ’74 Mobius Strip logo that I saw at the Expo ’74 Gala

Then of course Sunday was the iconic running of Bloomsday, which is special in its own right, and special to us here at Riverkeeper as so much of the run is within earshot of the Spokane River.  But it wasn’t until after the race when I was walking through Riverfront Park that I really made the connection to the other two events of the weekend.  Here is this beautiful and wildly used asset of a park in our community that for better or worse has remained somewhat unchanged for the better part of forty years.  Now, obviously you know where I’m going here as you know how much Riverfront Park means to me and you know that I served the last twelve plus months on a citizen’s advisory committee to come up with recommendations for improvements to Riverfront Park.  But it was walking through Riverfront Park seeing thousands of people sitting on the lawn, listening to music, visiting vendors, boarding the gondola, crossing the bridges and looking at the Spokane River then walking myself over to Huntington Park to see that juxtaposition that I really started to get jazzed about the prospect of a new and improved Riverfront Park.  We as citizens deserve a beautiful, useful and one-of-a-kind keystone park in this community.  We deserve a Riverfront Park  that has the same wow factor as Huntington Park.  And as long as I’m around, I’m going to keep working for that.

In case you need a reminder, here’s the vision of a new Riverfront Park – http://riverfrontparkmasterplan.org/

River Front Park – An Overview from Purple Crayon Pictures on Vimeo.

There is too much going on right now not to capitalize on getting Riverfront Park right.  We’re seeing a tremendous amount of attention paid to the River, from everything aforementioned in this post ( including the capital projects for infrastructure that very well could come with improved River access, art and other amenities), to the work being done by the Spokane River Forum and others to improve River access up and down the River, to a new River experience at the Convention Center and likely Corbin Park in Peaceful Valley.  Like it was for Expo ’74, the River IS the focus.  The River is the attention piece of all of this.

King Cole set out to save downtown Spokane.   To do so he needed to remove the railroad tracks and uncover the Spokane River.  That was a pretty high bar to set.  We as a community have rarely tried to reach that bar since.  Yet here we are forty years later and I’m losing track of the number of projects who have already hit that bar and higher, or are about to or likely to. I don’t know how or when it happened, but this is a new Spokane.  It’s time we all accept and embrace that.

“How the Spokane River was Formed”

A Spokane Tribe of Indians account:

A long, long time ago on this land lived a huge monster. His breath was foul and reeking of the remains of his victims. His claws, with one swipe, could uproot the largest pine trees. The people everywhere stood in constant fear and awe of it.

One beautiful summer’s day, a young Indian girl, gathering berries near a beautiful lake discovered the monster sleeping in the sunshine on a hillside. Slipping away, she ran as fast as she could to her village and excitedly recounted the scene she had witnessed.

The chief immediately assembled his people, and gathering every heavy rope in the village, they snuck up on the sleeping monster and with barely a sound tied the monster to nearby trees and rocks. Once trapped, the tribe fell upon the drowsy monster with their clubs, spears, knives and arrows.

Upon this rude awakening the monster shook himself and with a single, mighty lunge broke all the ropes, and ran as fast as he would to the east, tearing a deep gorge to Lake Coeur d’Alene.

The confined waters of the lake flowed down into the channel the monster made, and ever since the Spokane River has flowed into the Columbia River on its way to the sea.



Guest post: Funnel Vision

Here’s a guest post by Spokane Riverkeeper intern Rachel Nichols featuring her thoughts and notes from last week’s “Heavy Traffic Still Ahead” presentation at Gonzaga that featured Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, traffic expert Terry Whiteside and Montana organizer Margie MacDonald talking about coal and oil train impacts on Spokane and the inland northwest.

Funnel Vision by Rachel Nichols

They call it “The Funnel,” a 70-mile confluence of BNSF rail tracks that feeds nearly 50 trains into Spokane daily and, according to an exhaustive research study, as many as 82 additional coal and oil trains per day are proposed to cascade into The Funnel within the next decade.

Risks posed by rail shipments of coal and oil drew increased attention last week with a public presentation introduced by traffic expert Terry C. Whiteside, of Whiteside & Associates, and Margie MacDonald of Western Organization of Resource Councils. This presentation introduced findings from the report “Heavy Traffic Still Ahead,” which evaluates the anticipated increase in coal train traffic in light of the current proposals for new or expanded port facilities in the Pacific Northwest.

Sparks have been flying as local residents have been recognizing the significant implications that this proposition entails.

Oil trains scare people who live anywhere near the tracks. The most recent crash — in North Dakota — brought flames and smoke, but no injuries. A July explosion in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, killed 47 people. Other crashes have led to evacuations, but not hospitalizations.

Not only does this present a threat to public health, increasing the risk of accidents, and decreasing the ability to provide effective emergency response times, but it also entails severe economic implication. Coal and oil trains have top priority over all forms of rail transportation, causing interference with the local freight delivery systems. The distribution of goods has already induced the loss of tens of millions of dollars due to products not making it to market. This has had a significant toll on farmers in particular, who are not getting their fertilizers in time due to this priority influence.

The Northwest is a region noted for spectacular physical beauty, an emphasis on “quality of life,” and a dedication to clean, healthy living and environmental stewardship. It is agriculturally rich and a haven for innovative business. The pollution, traffic, noise, and degradation of our waters and fisheries that would come with significant coal and oil train traffic is at odds with the enjoyment and stewardship of this region. Choosing to become an economy in which coal transport is an emphasis seemingly undermines aspirations to build on the Northwest economies of tourism, healthy agriculture, innovative businesses, clean energy, and the manufacture of local goods. Even our beautiful landscape – our rivers, national forests, and mountains would be imperiled by the proposed project. The Northwest’s most valuable asset is our quality of life, and this quality is what hangs in the balance. This issue of coal and oil transport is a problem that is rapidly redefining our region, and robbing us from our defining factors. It would be foolish to consider it lightly.

It is crucial for us as a community to voice our concerns and stand up for our reputation, recognizing that this industrial funnel vision is facilitated by society’s severe case of tunnel vision. Ignorance will only deliver us past the point of mitigation. Consider this a prelude to what is coming in the future.  This is not time for panic; it is, however, a proposition for revolutionary thoughts and actions to be initiated among all of the stakeholders.

Recapping our annual spring river clean up

On Saturday (April 12), over 100 people joined us for our annual Spokane Riverkeeper Spring River Clean up.  By all accounts it was an amazing success!  It was our biggest and best clean up by far, we had a record number of partners on board to make it so, and above all we left a part of the Spokane River MUCH cleaner than we found it.  Here’s a quick recap and photos.

First off, THANK YOU each and every one of you who turned out on Saturday for our fourth annual Spokane Riverkeeper Spring River Clean up!

All told we had just over 100 people out cleaning up the banks of the Spokane River and the surrounding area. And we made a HUGE impact, as you’ll see in some of the pictures.  We overflowed the big garbage dumpster, we almost filled the recycling dumpster, we recovered 17 tires (2 short of our record) that Bridgestone Tires picked up to recycle and we found quite a bit of scrap metal that some local artists will be putting to good use.

I was blown away by the turnout, the enthusiasm, and the great work we did!

But we couldn’t have done it without the help and partnership of so many.

Thank you Gonzaga Law School, specifically the Alliance for Social Justice and the Journal of International Law for helping with marketing, organizing and day of support.  And thank you law students for being such great volunteers.  Thank you to the City of Spokane for donating the dumpsters AND to the Wastewater department for supplying a truck and drivers to help pick up bags of trash from the areas we cleaned and get them back to the dumpster.  This year this event was part of Spokane Gives week.  It was an honor to be part of such a great mission.  Thanks to Doma Coffee Roasting Company for supplying the amazing “GOOD COFFEE” and for bringing their entire team out to volunteer for the clean up.  Amazing show of support and dedication to the cause.  Thank you American Rivers for donating the trash bags and thanks to Bridgestone Tires for recycling the tires we found.  And of course last, but most important, THANK YOU to all of you who volunteered your time to help make this happen.

See you all next Spring!

Save the Date: Spokane River Forum’s H20 Breakfast is May 6 in Spokane

On May 6th at the Lincoln Center in Spokane, the Spokane River Forum will host the H2O Breakfast with the theme of “Perspectives on Regional Stormwater Management”.   This will be a great networking and Q&A opportunity for opinion leaders, elected officials, stormwater managers, agencies, conservation groups, businesses, and others.  We hope to see you there!


Join the Spokane River Forum  in welcoming the Mayor of Aurora Illinois, Tom Weisner

May 6, 2014 • 8am to 10:30am at The Lincoln Center, Lincoln Ballroom Spokane, Washington

The Aurora, IL Experience – A River Runs Through It: Stormwater Management, Green Infrastructure and Economic Development

Aurora, like the Spokane – Coeur d’Alene corridor, has a river (the Fox) running through it. Similar in size to Spokane, Aurora has transformed itself from a “blue collar town” to a 21st century economy. Mayor Weisner will share his experiences:

Cleaning up polluted riverfront areas and breathing new life into Aurora’s downtown urban core, the most recent example of which is RiverEdge Park, a spectacular new music venue on the banks of the Fox River.

Implementing Green Infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff, sewer overflow events and nonpoint source pollution; improve best management practices; and educate residents.

Adopting a Riverfront Vision to guide environmental stewardship and economic development.

Joining Mayor Weisner will be Spokane Mayor David Condon, who will showcase Spokane’s Integrated Clean Water Plan, an effort to provide superior environmental results for the Spokane River at an affordable price. This plan was recently submitted to the Washington Department of Ecology.

Perspectives on addressing similar issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington will also be shared.

For more info visit THIS SITE.

Fishing for redbands on the Spokane River

In honor of tomorrow’s International Fly Fishing Film Festival at the Bing, here’s a great video about how to fish for redband trout on the Spokane River.  The video has great tips from the pros and some amazing Spokane River scenery shots.  Video courtesy of our friends at Spokane Falls Trout Unlimited and Silver Bow Fly Shop.

But first, here’s some more on tonight’s event.

if4The International Fly Fishing Film Festival is in Spokane TOMORROW NIGHT at the Bing Crosby Theater.  Doors open at 5 and films start at 7.  Between 5 and 7 there will be a chance to meet some of people involved in fly fishing in the area, the two hosts of the event (Spokane Falls chapter of Trout Unlimited) and other groups working on water issues (we’ll be there with a Riverkeeper table!)  But best of all there will be a raffle and auction for some truly amazing items (rods, reels, trips, etc).  All funds raised from this event will go to our friends and colleagues at the Spokane Falls chapter of Trout Unlimited to help support their projects for wild Redband Rainbow Trout recovery in the Spokane River basin.  Tickets are $15 at the door.  More info here – http://www.silverbowflyshop.com/blog/if4-international-film-festival-spokane-river-benefit


Now, on to this great 9-minute video about fly fishing for redband trout on the Spokane River:

FISH in a ‘KAN – Fishing for Redbands in the Spokane River from Kimbo on Vimeo.

Throwback Thursday: Salmon

For months now I’ve been featuring old Spokane River photos on the Riverkeeper Instagram account as part of the weekly post theme known as Throwback Thursday, or #tbt as the hashtag goes.  But this one is too big for Instagram, so I decided to call it up to the blog.

First, a little context courtesy of a great old Jim Kershner feature from The Spokesman-Review circa 1995.

Everybody knows that salmon once surged through the Spokane River.

But not everyone knows that it was, literally, one of the king rivers of the Northwest:

The Spokane River spawned the biggest of the big salmon, summer chinooks (kings) that were commonly 50 to 80 pounds.

The Spokane River was one of the most productive salmon streams in the entire Columbia system.

The summer fishing camps at Spokane Falls were famous among many tribes, even tribes from far away.

The total number of salmon running up the Spokane probably approached a million annually, of which about 300,000 were harvested by the Spokane tribe and other tribes.

Spokane’s early hotels did a thriving business among Eastern fishermen. The salmon were Spokane’s first major tourist attraction.

And then they were gone.

After hundreds of thousands of years of salmon runs, it took less than a century to kill off the runs entirely. Actually, it took less than two days – the day that Long Lake Dam blocked the upper three-quarters of the Spokane in 1915, and the day that the Grand Coulee Dam blocked the Columbia and the rest of the Spokane, in 1939. Both dams went up without fish ladders.

So what did that look like?  Check out this great photo:



An unidentified woman poses with a 45-pound coho salmon at the J.T. Little store in Spokane on July 23, 1929. The photo appeared in the Spokane Chronicle newspaper. Credit: Photo L87-1.39894-29, Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, Spokane

Fast forward to today and talk of returning to a time and place where salmon could  return to the Spokane River is happening.  Here’s an excerpt from a recent Spokesman-Review article talking about ongoing Columbia River Treaty talks:

The potential for restoring salmon over Grand Coulee also raises the possibility of salmon returning to the Spokane River, said Matt Wynne, a Spokane tribal council member.

The Spokanes once trapped salmon at Little Falls by building rock barriers partway across the river and spearing fish caught in weirs. They also fished at the Spokane River’s confluence with the Little Spokane and Latah Creek. However, three dams owned by Avista Utilities blocked fish passage on the lower Spokane River even before Grand Coulee was built.

The tribe is starting to analyze what it would take to restore salmon to the Spokane River system, Wynne said. The Little Spokane River in particular still has good habitat, he said.

After the flood

Tis the season for high flows, floods and stresses on our water resources.  Here’s some info you need to know about, and some resources for minimizing your risk to human health issues associated with the aforementioned conditions.

Have you been outside lately; pretty nice, isn’t it?  But what happened to ALL that snow we got in late February / early March though; and what about that rain we got?  As you can imagine, or as you’ve seen if you’ve been down to the Spokane River,  Hangman Creek, Little Spokane River other area streams, all that snow that ran off and continues to run off and all that rain we got has made for some pretty high flows and flooding events.

spokane riverAs of posting, the Spokane River is flowing at just over 26,000 cubic feet per second (CFS), which is a record high for this date in history, where according to the USGS, mean discharge for March 13th, over the last 123 years is 7,640 CFS, and the max for this date in history is, or should I say was, 22,900 CFS, which occurred in 1985.

No surprise really as the last few weeks we saw a cold snap and heavy snow accumulation followed up immediately by warm temps, rapid snow melt and rain.  Just look at the chart (to your left) of Spokane River flows over the last week; that’s a steep climb.  When it’s all said and done, March will likely average out and fall somewhere in that 7,000 to 10,000 CFS mean discharge range for the month, which will put it right in the sweet spot for March which has a mean discharge flow over the last 123 years of 8,280 CFS.

If you want to geek out on Spokane River flows (or Hangman, Little Spokane or any other stream), bookmark the USGS sites for each stream:
Spokane River
Hangman Creek
Little Spokane River.

AND be sure to download the River Watcher app for your phone so you can check out USGS flow data on the go.

But right now, this very second, flows are high and people are noticing.  The City of Spokane has been posting photos the last


few days of the Spokane River covering the Centennial Trial.  As seen in their pic to the right.  So take notice of this.  If you’re out and about, especially along the River, you will likely encounter high flows and in some places, barriers to trails or other access points you may be use to.  For one, be careful. The water is cold and it’s swift.  For two, if you are out and about, take some photos and send them our way so we can feature them on the Riverkeeper website and social media channels.  And finally, as a pro tip, NOW is the time to get down to Riverfront Park for those once-a-year experiences of the roar of the Spokane Falls and the up-close experience of the raw power of water (and the spray of the falls).

Environmental and human health risks associated with high water.

Beyond the flow rate numbers (which I could play with for hours) and the awe-inspiring images of the Spokane River and Spokane River falls at near-peak flow, here’s what really has people talking.  The following brief update appeared in The Spokesman-Review on March 8th:

The city of Tensed, Idaho, will start pumping untreated wastewater into Hangman Creek to prevent the city’s wastewater lagoons from overflowing, state officials said Friday.

People should avoid contact with Hangman Creek until further notice, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

Recent flooding put the lagoons at risk of failure without action by the city, DEQ officials said. Hangman Creek flows northwest from Idaho into Washington and eventually into the Spokane River.

As you can imagine, this alarmed a lot of people and we’re STILL hearing from folks who are concerned.

Tensed (red marker) in relation to Spokane and the watershed

Tensed (red marker) in relation to Spokane and the watershed

So first, some background. Tensed, Idaho is a small town in Benewah, County, located within the Coeur d’Alene Reservation, about 57 miles south of Spokane.  It, as the Spokesman update indicated, lies on Hangman Creek, and has a wastewater treatment facility that discharges in to Hangman Creek.  And of course, as you know, Hangman Creek flows from Idaho in to the Spokane River.
The emails and comments we’ve received have ranged from, “GROSS” to “WTF” to “why aren’t you doing something to hold them accountable”.  So here’s some context.

Hangman Creek flows, like Spokane River flows, have experienced a recent surge.  Take a look at the recent week of flows on Hangman Creek (chart to the left), where you’ll see some significant highs.  Also notice that unlike the Spokane River, Hangman flows vary rapidly day to day as it is a very flashy system (this is partially due to land use influences, [agriculture, impervious surfaces, timber harvest, roads, etc.] as well as stream channel and flood plain alterations over the last 100-years).

hangman CFS 2014

Because of those high flows, and the lack of flood controls and/or the fact that Tensed’s facility is situated in the low-lying flood zone, Tensed had to start pumping partially treated, un-disinfected wastewater directly in to Hangman Creek. This is known as a “wastewater bypass”.  Here’s some basic info on bypass events:

What occurs during a bypass?
As the name implies, a bypass refers to wastewater that bypasses typical treatment at the wastewater treatment facility. This can occur during flooding when a wastewater treatment facility is located in a low-lying area, and the facility is flooded or otherwise rendered incapable of effectively treating the wastewater. The untreated wastewater bypasses usual treatment and is sent directly into the river. This is a “last resort” type of alternative that is used only when other effective means of dealing with the wastewater is not available. It is used to protect public infrastructure, including trying to prevent wastewater backup from entering people’s homes, which would pose a threat to public health and property damage.

What is in the wastewater that is being bypassed?
From households, it includes the water and wastes that come from your sinks, showers, tubs, toilets, dishwashers, washing machines, and floor drains. It is mostly water, but can contain human wastes, food wastes, detergents and anything else that gets washed down your drain.

What are the potential environmental and health impacts? What should I do to avoid any health impacts?
Avoid any physical contact with the water. Floodwaters can have dangerous currents, and there are also hazards of pathogens in the water. If you have been in contact with floodwaters, avoid touching your mouth or eyes, and try to thoroughly wash off as quickly as possible.

But the question we’ve gotten most is, “is this allowed / legal?”

The answer is yes.
Like all wastewater treatment facilities, the city of Tensed must obtain and comply with a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.  In Idaho, these permits are issued by United State Environmental Protection Agency.  You can read Tensed’s permit at - http://yosemite.epa.gov/r10/WATER.NSF/NPDES+Permits/Current+ID1319/$FILE/ID0025101FP.pdf

To save you some time, here is the section specific to bypass events:

Bypass is prohibited, and the Director may take enforcement

action against the permittee for a bypass, unless:

i) The bypass was unavoidable to prevent loss of life,

personal injury, or severe property damage;

ii) There were no feasible alternatives to the bypass, such as

the use of auxiliary treatment facilities, retention of

untreated wastes, or maintenance during normal periods of

equipment downtime. This condition is not satisfied if

adequate back-up equipment should have been installed in

the exercise of reasonable engineering judgment to prevent

a bypass that occurred during normal periods of equipment

downtime or preventive maintenance; and

iii) The permittee submitted notices as required under

paragraph 2 of this Part.


In talking with a representative for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the bypass began on March 8 and that Tensed stopped pumping out of the lagoon, in to Hangman Creek in the evening of March 11.  According to Idaho DEQ, “They have not discharged out of the lagoons since then and the lagoons are not in danger of overflowing.”

But people were in, and continue to go in contact with Hangman Creek

This is true.  Most of the people we are hearing from are paddlers and other recreators who see the high flows on Hangman and know that those are the best times to get out and enjoy the short season that is paddling Hangman Creek.  So this is a good reminder for anyone who is swimming, kayaking, canoeing, etc in Hangman Creek or any stream during this time of year that you should practice good safety and hygiene.  Shower up after paddling, avoid swallowing stream water, wash your clothes and gear after coming in contact with the stream and know that if you recreate in local streams this time of year, you are at risk of coming in to contact with water that could and probably is impacted by storwmater, sewage bypass or other conditions.

Not to add more fear to the mix, but Hangman is also severely impacted during high flows and runoff season by flooded out septic systems, animal feed lot runoff and flooding and other agricultural run-off and flooding events.

What do we do…

I don’t have a concrete answer or solution here.  And I’m open for suggestions.   A few things I’ve thought of recently include:

– continuing to advocate for better, more protective agricultural practices on Hangman Creek to reduce the risk of agricultural runoff and the loss of good, protective riparian habitat

– bringing people to the table to have an updated conversation regarding warnings and the notification system of sewage bypasses

–  putting pressure on the Washington Department of Ecology, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA to require flood control mechanisms at these small wastewater treatment facilities – think surge controls like what the city is doing to address CSOs

– instituting some kind of water monitoring program and access to information regarding water samples in areas where we know people are recreating and coming in to contact with the Spokane River and tributaries.

– contacting the Riverkeeper with your great ideas on how to solve this so we can get to a solution and a place where the Spokane River and the tributaries really are Fishable and Swimmable YEAR ROUND.