riverkeeper

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 Jerry@CforJustice.org.

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.

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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.

Press Release: Coalition of Conservation Groups, Industry, and Municipal Government Challenge Hatchery Permit for Impacts of PCBs to the Spokane River

For Immediate Release: January 19, 2016

Media Contacts:

Jerry White, Jr, Spokane Riverkeeper (509) 464-7614

Rick Eichstaedt, Center for Justice (509) 464-7607

Mike Petersen, The Lands Council (509) 838-4912

Adrienne Cronebaugh, Kootenai Environmental Alliance (208) 667-9093

Coalition of Conservation Groups, Industry, and Municipal Government Challenge Hatchery Permit for Impacts of PCBs to the Spokane River

Challenge seeks a permit that requires PCB testing and participating in regional PCB task force

SPOKANE, WA–Last week, a coalition of conservation groups consisting of the Spokane Riverkeeper, The Lands Council, the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, and the Lake Spokane Association, along with the Inland Empire Paper Company and the City of Coeur d’Alene filed a challenge to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board of a pollution discharge permit issued by the Washington Department of Ecology for the operation of a fish hatchery on the Little Spokane River.

The appeal raises concerns about the permit’s failure to adequately address impacts of the hatchery to water quality in the Spokane River, particularly impacts from toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).  While hatcheries do not produce PCBs, a 2006 report raised concerns about the presence of PCBs in hatchery fish food, its impact on PCB levels in fish tissue, water quality impacts in the hatchery water discharge, and impacts to PCB levels in the Spokane River.

The appeal seeks measures that would require the hatchery to conduct the same type of monitoring and to participate in the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force (SRRTTF) in the same manner as other PCB dischargers, including Inland Empire Paper Company and the City of Coeur d’Alene.

“The Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency requires the cities and industries on the Spokane River to vigorously monitor their discharges for PCBs and to participate in a regional toxics task force,” said Jerry White, Jr., Spokane Riverkeeper.  “We don’t want to shut down the hatchery,” said White. “We just want to make sure that all dischargers follow the same rules.”

“What we are after is parity,” said Mike Petersen, director of The Lands Council.  “The other dischargers are spending a significant amount of money and time monitoring impacts and participating in the Toxics Task Force.  It is not unreasonable to expect that the Fish and Wildlife do the same.”

“Communities on both side of the state are taking the problem of PCBs in the Spokane River seriously,” Adrienne Cronebaugh, director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  “That means every potential source of PCBs needs to take action to reduce and, if possible, eliminate PCBs.”

Once widely used in everything from electrical insulators to underwater paint, PCBs are now considered a long-lived pollutant associated with increased risk of cancer, reduction of immune function and impairment of the neurological development of fetuses.  The family of chemicals, polychlorinated biphenyls, lasts for years in the environment. PCBs can concentrate in fat, and are passed along through the food chain when one animal eats another.  PCBs are toxic in extremely small quantities.  Current regulations prohibit PCB dischargers in quantities measured in the parts per quadrillion.

The Spokane Hatchery operated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was built in 1934 and is one of the State’s original hatcheries. It is one of the major Rainbow Trout facilities in the state. The facility also raises German Brown Trout, Eastern Brook Trout, Cutthroat Trout, Tiger Trout, and Kokanee Salmon.

The Pollution Control Hearings Board hears appeals from orders and decisions made by the Department of Ecology. The Board consists of three members, who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate for staggered six-year terms.

Pollution Enforcement in Washington State (or lack thereof)

Washington State has two approaches to protect the quality of the public’s water from agricultural pollution. Sadly, neither is functioning to provide the healthy, clean water that the public is entitled to.  In one approach, the federal government provides funding that is made available through the counties and the State to fund voluntary programs to address agricultural water quality problems. In the second approach, the Washington Water Pollution Control Act gives the Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE) the authority to regulate farm practices that protect water quality. This authority was upheld by the Washington Supreme Court in the Lemire vs Ecology case in August of 2013.  Ideally, participation by the agricultural industry in voluntary programs would work in concert with regulatory frameworks to re-enforce a culture of lawful behavior and practices that ensure public values are protected.

Enforcement and complaints1

Figure 1. Comparison of the number of pollution complaints received, and violation letters, warning letters, and financial penalties issued by Ecology by region.

Within the regulatory process, Ecology identifies farm operations that are polluting the public’s water through citizens’ complaints and a Watershed Evaluation Process. They proceed with offering farm operations technical and financial assistance to correct their behavior and improve their practices via violation letters.  If the behavior is not corrected, then punitive orders may be issued with associated fines.  As a result of a Freedom Of Information request, we received data on the number of complaints, violation letters, warning letters, orders and fines levied by the Department of Ecology since the Lemire case was decided in August of 2013.  We also received information on the types of pollution these violation letters addressed.  These data show that Ecology’s rarely uses their regulatory ability and agricultural pollution violations continue to go unaddressed in Washington State.

In the Eastern Region and the Spokane River Watershed, regulatory framework is in place but through inaction has become dysfunctional and counter-productive.   For example, since the Lemire case in the Eastern Region, 74 complaints have been lodged with WDOE and  129 follow-up, violation letters that offer technical and financial assistance have been sent to farm operations that are violating water quality law.  Astoundingly, no administrative orders have been issued nor fines levied.  (To illustrate this pattern, see Figure 1 for comparison of Eastern Regional Office to Bellingham Field Office).

Enforcement and complaints

Figure 2. The number and percentage of identified agricultural pollution violations fixed in Ecology’s Eastern Region since August, 2013.

Further, records show that of those 129 problem cases identified by WDOE, only a single farm has corrected their behavior and cleaned up their operations.  Inside the Eastern Region, the Spokane River tributary of Hangman Creek continues to have the worst water quality in the state (Figure 3).  In this watershed our records show that out of 22 active pollution cases (since 2013) none have been corrected.

wqi

Figure 3. Comparison of Ecology’s water quality index of selected streams in Washington State. A lower water quality index indicates worse water quality. For more information go to: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/eap/fw_riv/docs/WQIOverview.html

This inaction has created a norm in which agricultural industry breaks the law with impunity and virtually ignores water quality concerns. Ultimately, this inaction has sent a clear message that actual protection of the public’s surface water is not a priority for WDOE and emboldened polluters with the message that absolutely no enforcement is forthcoming for violators. In our watershed, as across the State, lawful behavior has broken down and as a result, the public is knowingly being deprived of clean water, healthy fisheries and functioning ecological corridors that our rivers should deliver.  As our campaign for clean water in Washington State develops, we will soon have ways that you can let your voice be heard.  Citizens speaking for clean water are the most powerful tool we have to let our legislators know that the public demands action.

 

Summer Water Temperature Wrap-Up

Our record breaking summer has finally ended and we have pulled our temperature loggers from the Spokane River, Hangman Creek, and the Little Spokane River (see map below).  Although our water temperature program was small this year (8 locations), I think that we collected some very interesting data.  I previously wrote on water temperature in the Spokane River through August, so I will primarily talk about Hangman Creek in this post.  I’ve listed some of the highlights of our data below.  Scroll down for more graphs and analysis of these data.

  1. Water temperatures in Hangman Creek are highest at our logger in the Palouse area (Waverly) and much too high for trout both there and at the mouth, while California Creek may contain a cool water refuge.
  2. Water temperatures in the Spokane River at Barker and Harvard Road are much too high for trout this summer.  Areas downstream of these locations saw cool temperatures suitable for trout.
  3. Decreasing the flow Spokane River at Post Falls from 600 to 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) causes a measurable decrease in water temperatures of the River at Islands Trailhead (near Plante’s Ferry).

Water temperature logger locations in the Spokane River Watershed, Summer 2015

Our methods were simple.  We placed our Hobo temperature loggers in 6″ segments of white PVC tubing to shield them from the sun, secured them to a nearby tree with twine or cable, and submerged them in about 2-3 feet of water in a secluded location.  The loggers read water temperature every 30 minutes, and aside from a two week hiatus, from July 15th to September 30th.

Our data showed temperatures in Hangman Creek exceed the state maximum for non-anadromous interior Redband Trout of 18 C (64 F).  The graph below charts water temperature in Hangman Creek and the Little Spokane River, with temperature on the Y-axes in Celsius and Fahrenheit.  The temperature at Waverly regularly exceeds 25 C (77 F), and on one day reached over 27 C (81 F)!  Water temperature at the mouth of Hangman Creek was a bit lower, but remained mostly above the 18 C (64 F) mark for about a month.  Interestingly, water temperature at Waverly tends to fluctuate more than at the mouth of Hangman Creek, possibly reflecting the lack of riparian buffer in the Palouse.  Riparian buffer, the vegetated area along a stream, shades the creek.  In the Palouse, riparian buffers have been torn out long ago in lieu of agriculture, leaving streams open to direct sunlight.

I monitored water temperature California Creek as well, which is a relatively intact stream (relative to upper Hangman ), with healthy riparian buffers in the lower portion of the creek.  Water temperature here was much lower, and daily minimum temperatures fell below the 18 C (64 F)mark.  Lacking any input from groundwater that I am aware of, California Creek’s temperatures reflect the partially intact nature of its watershed.  Lastly, Ian Townley, my colleague at St. George’s School, monitored water temperatures in the Little Spokane River.  Temperatures here were much lower than Hangman Creek during the hot summer months and never exceeded the 18 C mark.  This is a reflection of the cold aquifer water running into the River and the intact nature of portions of this watershed.

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Our Spokane River temperature data is graphed below, with water temperature and Spokane River flow on the left and right y-axes, respectively.  As I wrote about earlier, the reduction of flow at Post Falls on 7/18/15 seemed to reduce the temperature at Island Trailhead.  After the hot summer air temperatures ended, water temperatures reacted accordingly, dropping down by about 5 C (9 F) during the two week period we did not have loggers in the water.

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Our water temperature studies this summer reveal temperatures in the Spokane River and Hangman Creek that are much too hot for our native redband trout.  Trout, our “canary in a coal mine”, indicate cool, clean water and a healthy ecosystem.   The high water temperatures we found this year reflect the state of our streams and rivers in the Inland Northwest, which in many cases lack riparian buffers and other common sense measures that improve water quality.  The health of our streams depend on reestablishing riparian buffers in areas they have been removed, most of which are areas of intensive agriculture.

Spokane Riverkeeper Joins National Movement to Derail Outdated Train Infrastructure

This week, we joined Waterkeeper Alliance, ForestEthics, and other environmental non-profits in releasing a report exploring the harmful effects of old train foundations. Since 2008, a 5,000 percent increase in oil train traffic has caused a threat to our waterways. This increases the likelihood of environmental disasters.

Photo courtesy of Waterkeeper Alliance

Photo courtesy of Waterkeeper Alliance

Defects in the rail bridges could lead to an oil train disaster causing oil spills, fires and explosions. In Spokane, we have numerous rail bridges that cross the Spokane River and its offshoots through the downtown area.

From July until September of this year, Waterkeepers from across the nation took a deeper look at 250 railway bridges along known and potential routes of explosive oil trains. Of the 250 railways that were surveyed, 114 bridges— nearly half of the railways we explored—showed signs of significant stress and decay, such as rotted, cracked, or crumbling foundations, and loose or broken beams.

After looking at safety standards for rail bridges, we found that the federal government lacks oversight of inspections and repairs necessary for safe railway bridges. Through our investigation, we found that broad federal law, lax regulations, inadequate inspections, and a lack of authority combine to create a threat from oil trains.

As a result, we are calling for immediate, decisive action by the federal government on this issue.

“What the Waterkeepers have captured shines a light on the need for immediate, independent inspections of all rail bridges that carry explosive oil trains,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “People deserve to know the state of this infrastructure and the risks posed by oil trains rolling through their communities.”

ForestEthics has calculated that oil trains directly threaten the life and safety of 25 million Americans, while also jeopardising the drinking water supply for tens of millions more. Our collaborated report attempts to alert communities about this risk and calls for nationwide action and reform of rail safety standards.

We would like to see the Federal Railroad Administration ensure that no rail bridge be used for oil trains or other hazardous materials unless it passes a rigorous and recent third-party safety inspection with strict federal guidelines to ensure zero risk to our drinking water, our river and our community. For more information about what we found out, check out the official report here.

A note from the Spokane Riverkeeper: A huge thanks to our intern, Bella Colpo, for writing this blog post!