Tag Archives: Spokane River

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:


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


Climate Progress

ABC News

Oregon Live

Spokane Riverkeeper Announces “River Partners”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more about River Partners here.

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.

State of the Creek

In a ruling with broad ramifications for how effectively Washington can regulate water pollution, the state Supreme Court rules to protect a contaminated waterway from “wallowing” livestock.

Lemire v. Ecology, a case decided earlier today by the Washington Supreme Court, is among the most important state environmental cases in recent years.

At issue, simply, is whether Washington regulators can effectively take action to stop what is known as “nonpoint” water pollution. “Point source” pollution is that which comes out a discharge pipe in to a waterway. “Nonpoint” is basically everything else, including polluted run-off from agricultural operations, or massive shopping mall parking lots. Because of the diversity of sources and investments needed to curtail polluted run-off, getting a handle on nonpoint pollution is often the largest headache in achieving compliance with state and federal water quality standards.

A Lemire cow at Pataha Creek. (Photo Courtesy Washington Department of Ecology.)

A Lemire cow at Pataha Creek. (Photo Courtesy Washington Department of Ecology.)

In the Lemire case, it was cows. Cattle rancher Joseph Lemire has been allowing his cattle unguarded access to Pataha Creek, a tributary to the Tucannon River not far from where the Tucannon joins the Snake River in the southeast corner of the state. Lemire’s ranch was identified a decade ago by Ecology as having a detrimental effect on Pataha Creek, which flows through the ranch. After trying to work collaboratively with Lemire for six years, the agency finally issued an order to compel the rancher to better protect the creek from the cattle that were trampling the stream banks, “wallowing” in the water, and, as you might expect, defecating into and near the polluted creek.

Lemire lost a challenge to the state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board but then challenged the board’s ruling in Columbia County Superior Court. The superior court judge overruled Ecology and the hearings board, finding that the enforcement action was unwarranted and that it also represented an unconstitutional “takings” of Lemire’s economic rights to use his land.

But in an 8-1 opinion authored by Justice Debra L. Stephens, the state Supreme Court today reversed the lower court’s decision, upholding Ecology’s regulatory authority under state law. In the decision, Justice Stephens wrote that the “plain language” of Washington’s Pollution Control Act “give Ecology the authority to regulate nonpoint source pollution discharge.”

As for Lemire’s contention that his actions do not require a permit under the federal Clean Water Act, Justice Stephens wrote, that “is irrelevant to the question of Ecology’s authority to regulate his activity under state law.

Here, the court cited an amicus brief filed by Waterkeepers Washington (including the Spokane Riverkeeper.)

“As amici Waterkeepers Washington explain,” she wrote, “Lemire’s actions may not be subject to a permit requirement under the Clean Water Act, but his actions are well within the state’s jurisdiction to prevent and control pollution within its borders.”

Today’s decisions got an enthusiastic response from Rick Eichstaedt, the Center’s executive director, who was the lead author on the Waterkeepers Washington amicus brief in the case.”

“This will have giant implications to address pollution across the state of Washington,” Eichstaedt said.

“We think this decision makes sense,” added Spokane Riverkeeper Bart Mihailovich. “We can’t simply place onerous requirements on cities and industries. Everyone needs to share the responsibility for cleaning up our water bodies. Lemire thought he was immune from the law and the Supreme Court rightfully found he was wrong.”

Lemire can appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, Eichstaedt noted. But, Eichstaedt points out, the U.S. Supreme Court would have the discretion of whether to hear the appeal and it usually reserves review to cases involving interpretation of federal law or the Constitution, not matters solely of state law as were involved in this case.

–Tim Connor for the Center for Justice

Derailing Coal

Spokane Riverkeeper among seven plaintiffs in federal suit to stop discharges of coal from rail shipments.

As expected, the Spokane Riverkeeper today joined the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Columbia Riverkeeper and three other Washington state environmental protection organizations in a federal court action aimed at stopping the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad from discharging coal and coal contaminated water into more than eighty of the state’s waterways. The suit alleges the discharges occur because the rail cars BNSF uses to ship coal from Wyoming’s Power River Basin to Washington ports are uncovered and therefore regularly emit coal and coal contaminated water.

BNSF coal train approaching Spokane's Latah Junction.

BNSF coal train approaching Spokane’s Latah Junction.

Filed in the Eastern District for the State of Washington the complaint alleges BNSF violates the federal Clean Water Act because the releases of coal are routinely occurring and the railroad has failed to obtain discharge permits that are required, by law, to control the release of harmful substances to the nation’s waterways.

“We have found coal in the Spokane River and its tributary Hangman Creek,” said Spokane Riverkeeper Bart Mihailovich. “That is toxic pollution in our waterways, and that is a major concern to the Spokane Riverkeeper and all those who have a right to a swimmable and fishable Spokane River.”

According to the railroad’s own public statements, each of the rail cars loses between 500 to 3,500 pounds of coal per trip and, as Mihailovich explained in a recent public appearance, some of the renegade coal chunks have been recovered from local streams by volunteers working in conjunction with the Riverkeeper.

You can read the complaint here. You can also read the joint press release issued by the plaintiffs. You can also listen to an interview with Bart Mihailovich about this lawsuit.

Pursuant to federal procedures, plaintiffs in today’s action originally filed a notice to sue in early April, with the Spokane Riverkeeper and NRDC adding to the notice in early May.

“Neither the EPA (the federal Environmental Protection Agency) nor the Washington Department of Ecology has commenced or is diligently pursuing a civil or criminal action to redress the violations,” the suit asserts.

The parties say they are seeking a court judgment that BNSF is in violation of the Clean Water Act and an injunction to prohibit the railroad “from operating rail cars and trains in such a manner as will result in further violations” of the law.

–Tim Connor for the Center for Justice

No Appetite for Delay

Washington’s Waterkeepers serve notice they’ll take legal action to compel a credible fish consumption rate in calculating health risks from toxic contaminants.

The Spokane Riverkeeper Tuesday joined Earthjustice and three sister Waterkeeper organizations in filing notice with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the groups will pursue legal action to protect Washingtonians who consume fish from the state’s waterways.

FWSsmuAt issue is how Washington state regulators calculate the risk to people who eat fish and shellfish contaminated by toxic pollutants.

Earthjustice and the Waterkeeper groups allege that Washington state is ignoring scientific surveys that show that people consume much more fish than the state’s risk calculations take into account. Because Washington performs its calculations assuming that a person would consume just 6.5 grams of fish or shellfish a day, the environmental advocates argue that this greatly under-calculates the actual amount of mercury and other toxins that people are exposed to through their diets.

“An accurate fish consumption rate is important to public health,” the environmental organizations state in a press release issued earlier today, “because it is used to set water pollution standards. Central to the process is estimating how much fish people eat. Washington relies on an outdated system for setting fish consumption rates for water quality instead of establishing rates based on the best available data, particularly local surveys that reflect the amount of fish people actually eat.”

“In Washington state, fish consumption is estimated at a scant 6.5 grams (less than a quarter ounce) of fetish or shellfish a day—a morsel that fits on a snack cracker. The monthly estimate is slightly less than 8 ounces—a modest serving of filet. Under that estimate, less stringent water pollution limits are set.”

The action is aimed at EPA because it hasn’t exercised its authority under federal law to compel the state to use more realistic parameters in calculating pollution effects.

“Catching and eating fish is not only a basic right of citizens here in Washington,” says Spokane Riverkeeper Bart Mihailovich, “it’s a way of life here for many people. Yet, Washington’s water quality standards are among the nation’s least protective when it comes to human health. This needs to change immediately by evaluating the best science, adopting a realistic fish consumption rate and new toxic limits.”

You can read the full press release on the notice filing here.

–Tim Connor for the Center for Justice.