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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
A note from the Spokane Riverkeeper: A huge thanks to our intern, Amy Shafer, for researching and writing this blog post. Her introduction to PCBs comes at a crucial time in Washington State for toxins in our waters. The EPA recently proposed an alternative water quality standard and Federal Human Health Criteria that is superior to Washington State’s draft proposal. In the State’s rule, the allowable cancer risk rate of those who consume fish from Washington State waters is raised from one case of cancer in one million citizens to one case in one hundred thousand citizens. This has implications for all people who catch and east fish in Washington State, especially those who consume larger amounts of fish, who are very young or are pregnant. The Spokane Riverkeeper supports the adoption of the proposed EPA rule which calls for the more protective 1:1,000,000 cancer risk rate. Please comment here or wait and watch our Facebook page and email blasts for the “talking point” highlights from Riverkeeper comments.
Most people in the Spokane area are aware that the Spokane River is polluted. But what is it that’s actually polluting and harming the river and the animals in and around it? PCBs are toxic substances that are greatly affecting the Spokane River and pose a risk to human health.
What are they?
PCB stands for Polychlorinated Biphenyls. These are two benzene rings with 1-10 chlorines attached to them. There are 209 different arrangements of chlorine on these structures and these are called cogeners. PCBs are chemicals that come from old electrical equipment and modern day dyes and pigments. They travel via the air and water, becoming attached to sediments and particles in the water of the Spokane River. They move through the food web of aquatic animals and make their way up the food chain to humans who are eating the fish from the River. PCBs were initially developed in 1929 and were used in several types of equipment because they did not break down, burn, or conduct electricity. They were made illegal in 1979 but the laws allowed some uses to continue under allowable levels of toxicity.
Where do they come from?
PCBs were originally used in many things. They were found in transformers, capacitors, lubricants, caulk, paint, lamp ballasts, florescent lighting, and even newsprint. When PCBs were made illegal these stopped being manufactured but those that were already in use were permitted to continue being used. In addition to these legacy manufactures, there are 70 known manufacturing processes that are inadvertently making PCBs that continue to occur because PCBs are made as a byproduct. The most well-known and studied of these processes is the making of dyes and pigments. PCBs have been found to correlate with brighter colors in paints, pigments, inks, and dyes so it is found in most colored papers, cardboard, plastics, and textiles. The PBCs get released into the environment through manufacturing, use, disposal, and recycling processes.
PCBs travel through the air until they are eventually deposited onto surfaces where they are then washed away through water and end up in areas like the Spokane River. They don’t dissolve in water and instead attach themselves to mud, organic particles, and sediments at the bottom of the river. The organic particles in the river are then consumed by invertebrates, which are generally at the bottom of the food chain. PCBs are stored in the fat of animals so when that animal gets eaten, all of the PCBs it consumed in its lifetime end up in the predator that ate it. This results in a higher concentration of PCBs in animals’ systems the higher up the food chain one goes. This process is known as bioaccumulation. By the time PCBs reach fish in the Spokane River, the amount of PCB in the tissue is dangerous to consume.
What do they do?
PCBs increase the risk of cancer and other health issues in animals and humans. Studies of people who have been highly exposed to PCBs have shown that PCBs cause skin rashes, immune disorders, liver disease, reproductive disorders, and neurological and behavioral problems, and cancer. While PCBs are dangerous for everyone, there are some people who are especially at risk. People are more likely to come in contact with PCBs if they work around contaminated equipment and materials, work in buildings with PCB materials or florescent light ballasts, or consume fish and seafood from contaminated waters. Small children are more likely to be affected by PCBs as they are still developing and growing and pregnant women who are exposed to high levels of PCB have infants who tend to show neurobehavioral problems. PCBs are stored in fat rather than blood and the human body absorbs it rather than secretes it. Because the body does not remove PCB from its system, the amount of PCB in an individual will increase with age. In 2014 PCBs were reclassified from “probable human carcinogens” to “human carcinogens” by the International Agency for Research of Cancer.
Experiments have been run throughout Washington to find the effects of PCBs on various animals that have been exposed to them. Fish, birds, and mammals such as sea lions, seals, and mink have shown negative effects of exposure to PCBs. They all had reproductive problems, poor muscle coordination, week immune systems, and deformities in their skin and skeletons.
What are we doing about this issue?
The Spokane Riverkeeper mission is to protect and restore the health the Spokane River watershed, and accomplishes that goal through collaborating, educating and when necessary litigating. In 2011 the Spokane Riverkeeper helped create the Toxics Task Force. Its job regarding PCBs is to identify sources of PCBs and reduce the amount of PCBs in the Spokane River. The Task Force is making efforts to consolidate data about PCB sources, transportation, and what becomes of them. They are working on finding the different sources that are involved in dispersal of PCBs through stormwater. They did a massive data collection during dry weather and they intend to do another collection later during a wet season. The Spokane Toxics Task Force is also trying to identify and reduce PCB production in consumer products where PCBs are a byproduct
Another way we have been trying to bring about change is through political arenas. The Spokane Toxics Task Force has worked for PCB restriction, encouraged purchase of low and non-PCB products for public use, and addressed the need to reduce inadvertently made PCBs. In June of 2014 the City of Spokane enacted an ordinance that had a preference for City purchases to be PCB free. We are also working on public outreach. Measures are being taken to educate the community about what PCBs are and the dangers that they bring about. One example is fish advisories that have also been created by the Washington Department of Health to let people know what fish is safe to eat and where in the river it can be caught from. (see image below). Additionally, all Washington Waterkeeper’s are advocating for the most protective Human Heath Criteria as proposed in the EPA’s draft rule. The Spokane Riverkeeper will be asking people to sign letters, and make comments in support of a very protective rule. Such a rule will help in the reduction of PCBs entering.
Why should you care?
Being aware of health issues in the community is key to keeping yourself and your family healthy and happy. When you go to swim in the Spokane River you should be sure to wash off hands, feet, face, and toys before eating or leaving. If you eat fish from the Spokane River you should be sure to eat no more than the advised amount set by the Washington Department of Health.
We at Spokane Riverkeeper are doing all that we can to stop pollution of the Spokane River and keep our environment clean. We cannot do this alone though. You can also help your community by donating money or volunteering your time to help us out. The Spokane River clean-up was a huge success this year and we owe that to citizens of Spokane like yourself. Stay informed of what’s going on in your local community and take ownership for the beautiful environment around you. This river belongs to all of us, let’s make it something to be proud of.
Our guest author, Amy Shafer, is a senior at Gonzaga University studying biology and political science, with aims to work in environmental policy. She interns as a our PCB Outreach Coordinator.
For thousands of years, Chinook salmon and steelhead made the incredible journey up the Columbia and Spokane Rivers, into Hangman Creek to lay their eggs. Salmon thrived in a creek with clean, cold water. However, with the current condition of the watershed, this is no longer the case. In recent years, only remnants of these fish populations can make it in the very few headwaters. Fecal material and eroded soil causes nutrients like phosphorus to deprive oxygen for aquatic ecosystems from the water and causing toxic algae blooms on Lake Spokane.
This is bad news for the fish, but also for anyone who enjoys swimming or boating in the creek.
Poor land use and agricultural practices continue to prevent stream recovery and clean water that all Washingtonians are entitled to enjoy. Cattle commonly graze along the banks of the Hangman Creek and are allowed to pollute the waters that people swim and fish in downstream. Swimming or even boating in this water puts recreational users at risk and degrades the capacity for the creek to support aquatic life. Would you want to swim in a pool of cow dung in the summertime?
Even more concerning, essential trees and bushes have intentionally been torn away from much of the riverbanks in order to squeeze crops and livestock onto every available square foot of land, poor agricultural practices have turned wetlands and tributaries into drainage ditches. Thousands of acres of surrounding soils are intentionally left exposed and allowed to erode into Hangman Creek. Basically, the watershed is extremely damaged.
The Clean Water Act and Washington State law requires the recovery of clean water and habitats that support the trout and salmon. Obviously, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hasn’t been holding these standards in Hangman Creek. So we did something about it.
The plan to restore the Hangman Creek habitat lacks the accountability pieces that will assure its success. So we challenged the EPA to rework this plan in order to provide an enforceable, transparent, well-funded plan to make Hangman Creek fishable and swimmable.
The Spokane Riverkeeper is thrilled to announce that the 2015 Mike Chappell River Hero Award goes to Andy Dunau. Although we don’t have strict criteria for selecting who receives the River Hero Award, we all agree that it is given to someone whose work helps preserve and protect the Spokane River. There is no doubt that Andy’s work does just this, but beforeI explain further, I wanted to give a bit of history.
In 2011, the Spokane community lost a real hero when Mike Chappell, then director of Gonzaga’s Environmental Law Clinic and one of the driving forces behind starting Spokane Rivekeeper suddenly passed away. That year, we held Dirty Martinis for Clean Water a mere few weeks after Mike’s passing and while on stage we announced that starting next year we’d do something to recognize Mike’s legacy of work on Spokane River issues. Since then, we have honored Russ Nobbs, Steve Faust, and Twa-le Abrahamson.
Andy’s tireless work for the river comes from a vision to connect the Spokane River with the city and people of Spokane. As he puts it, he wants the river to be part of our DNA. As the river becomes a driving force in our economy, he realizes the importance of connecting people to the river. He does this through convening people and groups to discuss river issues and creating individual opportunities to make a difference.
Andy’s love of the river started with an opportunity to create the Spokane River Forum. His work heading the Spokane River Forum led him to understand that experiences on the river them lead people to love it. The Spokane River Forum acts as an information clearinghouse, distributing important technical documents, river news, and most importantly, the Spokane Water Trail. Essentially a “one stop shop” for all things Spokane River, the Spokane Water Trail is an online resource that provides recreationalists information on boat launches and facilities along the Spokane River. Andy doesn’t just sit behind a computer. Since 2008 he has paddled the entire Spokane River and connected over 700 people to the River through river floats. He realizes he cannot do it all though and has worked behind the scenes to provide more access to the river, such as under the Division Street Bridge (see photo above).
Among his other accomplishments, Andy lists the increased communication between river advocacy groups and industry. “I wanted to make it safe to be in a room to talk about river issues” said Andy , alluding to the dialogue that he changed through the Spokane River Forum. “Mike Chappell taught me a culture of convening diverse groups, not to argue, but to communicate”. Andy offers individuals a way to give back to the river now too. The Spokane River Forum coordinates volunteer opportunities for litter clean up, tree planting, and restoration days for individuals or groups.
The Spokane Riverkeeper would like to sincerely thank Andy Dunau for all he has done for our river.
The summer of 2015 brought historically hot and dry conditions to the Inland Northwest. Record low rainfall and record high heat, combined with very low snowpack, caused record low flows on the Spokane River. We knew little about what these conditions would have on water temperatures in the Spokane River, so we placed continuous water temperature loggers in a few areas of the river. Due to the complex interaction between the Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer and the Spokane River, we expected to see a wide range of water temperatures. What we found were water temperatures that reflected the complex interaction with our aquifer, upriver temperatures that were too hot for our native Redband Trout, and data that led to many more questions. First, a bit of Spokane River hydrology.
The Spokane River flows out of Lake Coeur d’Alene and over the Post Falls Dam. The water in this “losing reach” of the Spokane River between Lake Coeur d’Alene and Sullivan Road is slowly seeping into the ground, replenishing our groundwater. Water temperature in this stretch of the river should be similar to the water temperature at the surface of Lake Coeur d’Alene, plus any warming that occurred in the river. Ground water also feeds the Spokane River. The Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, provides cool groundwater to the “gaining reaches” of the Spokane River (see map below), which come in mostly below Sullivan Road. Water temperatures in and downriver of these gaining reaches should be much cooler than the upriver section of river, depending on the proportion of cool aquifer water in the river.
In late June we saw dead fish and measured very warm temperatures in the Spokane River near Barker Road. This prompted us to place temperature loggers at five locations along the Spokane River in early July. Two at losing reaches in the upriver section at Harvard Road and Barker Road and three at gaining reaches at Islands Trailhead, Water Street (downstream from downtown), and TJ Meenach Bridge (see map below). Our method was simple, we placed Hobo Tidbits temperature data loggers which we set to record water temperature every 30 minutes in a short PVC tube for shade. They were then placed in the river at a depth of about two feet. The logger placed at Water Street was stolen, but the other loggers recorded temperature data from 7/16/15 to 8/20/15.
Water temperatures in the Spokane River varied dramatically between some locations. The average temperature at Harvard and Barker Road was 23.6 and 23.5 C, respectively, while the temperature downriver at Islands Trailhead and TJ Meenach Bridge was 13.6 and 15.1 C, respectively. This is a difference of over 8.5 C (15 F). This difference shows the influence of the aquifer on the down and upriver sections of river.
Data Summary of Spokane River Temperature Gages (summary courtesy of Allan Scholz of EWU)
Average temp (C)
Range of daily average temp (C)
July 16 – August 20
12.7 (on 8/20) – 15.9 (on 7/20)
July 16 – August 20
22.3 (on 7/27) – 24.7(on 8/13)
July 16 – August 20
14.2 (on 8/20) – 17.1 (on 8/12)
July 16 – August 20
21.7 (on 7/26) – 25.5 (on 7/20)
Looking at the data graphically, it gets a bit more interesting (see graph below). The upstream loggers at Harvard and Barker Road showed very similar patterns. Comparing the upstream loggers to the minimum and maximum air temperatures in Spokane (data courtesy of NWS Spokane), shows that warmer air temperatures translate into warmer water temperatures (no surprise there). Differences between daily maximum and minimum water temperatures at the upriver loggers were about 5 C, and varied between about 20 C and 27 C.
The two loggers influenced by the aquifer, at Island Trailhead and TJ Meenach Bridge, showed much cooler temperatures, small temperature variation, and seemed to be influenced less by air temperature than by other factors. Temperatures at these locations varied by about 2 C daily, between approximately 12 and 17 C degrees at Island Trailhead and 14 and 17 C degrees at TJ Meenach Bridge. Although daily air temperatures do seem to affect water temperatures at these locations, another factor may have an even larger affect.
After 7/23/15 water temperatures at Island Trailhead become much colder than that at TJ Meenach Bridge, having remained similar for the previous week. This divergence in water temperature correlated with the reduction in flow out of the Post Falls Dam (see flow graph below) from 640 cubic feet/second (cfs) to 500 cfs. The drop in water temperature at Islands Trailhead could be due to the reduction of warm water flowing over the dam and into the river, increasing the proportion of the cool aquifer water in the river at Islands Trailhead. Although this explains the drop in temperature at Islands Trailhead, it does not explain the divergence of water temperatures between Islands Trailhead and TJ Meenach Bridge. More data will be required to explain why temperature at TJ Meenach remains more or less constant, while flow seems to affect water temperature at Islands Trailhead.
Water temperatures in our river affect our native Redband Trout, a fish that needs cool, clean water to survive. Water temperatures seen this summer in the upper river are much too high for trout (see graph below). In fact, trout numbers in this stretch of the river are dropping. Although competition and predation from other fish likely play a role, during some summers water temperatures are much too hot for trout in this section of river.
Next summer the Spokane Riverkeeper hopes to expand this study. If we can find funding to purchase more temperature data loggers, we can monitor more sections of the Spokane River, including tributaries. Our studies will provide long term data in a river system that has complex temperature dynamics, that as far as we know, is not being taken by any one else.