During the summer of 2016, the Spokane Riverkeeper monitored water temperature in the Spokane River and Hangman Creek. The study was conducted to examine which areas of the watershed may contain unsuitable water temperatures for native Redband Trout and exceed Washington State’s water temperature standards of 64F (18C). Not surprisingly, much of the Hangman Creek main stem and the Spokane River above Sullivan Road exceeded these temperatures. Surprisingly, many tributaries of Hangman Creek were much cooler than expected. Warning: This is a graph heavy post, but we wanted to get the data out there and will be following up with an in-depth report soon.
First, let’s talk about the Spokane River. Spokane River water temperatures are best viewed in two sections – upriver and downriver of where the aquifer enters at Sullivan Road. Our upriver loggers were located at Barker Rd., Harvard Rd., and State Line, and downriver loggers at TJ Meenach Bridge, Glover Field, Division Street, and just above Upriver Dam. This separation in temperature trends is due to aquifer influence; aquifer water is cooler than surface water, particularly in the summer, as it is stored below ground. As indicated on the graph by the missing data, we had five loggers stolen over the course of the summer. Thankfully the upriver site of Harvard Rd. had enough data for us to compare its trends to downriver locations. (In lieu of this loss of equipment, PLEASE leave any scientific monitoring equipment you may come upon in the river be. Next year I will be placing replicate loggers at each site!)
The graph below shows the average, highest/lowest daily, and extreme instantaneous water temperatures recorded at each location. Even though there are missing data, the difference between the upriver and downriver sites isclear. Upriver sites exceed water temperature standards while downriver sites do not. Interestingly, the site above Upriver Dam (located just downstream of Boulder Beach) was the warmest of the downriver sites, and had days above the 64F (18C) standard.
The line graph below shows the temporal distinction between upriver (warm tones) and downriver (cool tones) trends. While both regions peaked in temperatures around late July and early August, downriver temperatures remained below the maximum habitable temperature for trout – indicated by the red line on the graph – for most of the summer while upriver temperatures were consistently above this limit. The upper Spokane River is uninhabitable for Redband Trout during the summer, raising the question of whether it should be listed.
Next year we plan to continue our Spokane River water temperature monitoring, focusing on just how hot the River is above the aquifer. We will add a number of sites and replicate our current sites.
We placed loggers throughout the Hangman Creek watershed (see red stars on the map below), with four on the main stem and nine in tributaries. Spangle Creek went dry, leaving us with 11 total loggers that gave us water temperature data.
We found that Hangman Creek is significantly hotter than its tributaries. The boxplot below shows Hangman Creek locations on the left and tributaries on the right. No main stem location had average temperatures lower than any monitored tributary. This can be explained in part by the lack of riparian (streamside) vegetation along the creek. Though the tributaries do see influence from underground springs, if Hangman had adequate riparian cover along its entirety to filter non-point pollution and shade the creek from intense sunlight we may not see such a stark differentiation in temperature trends. One surprise from this graph was Rattler Run Creek. We expected it to have high temperatures because it flows through an intensely modified area of the Palouse, but instead it had the lowest temperatures of all the tributaries monitored.
Sorry for the messy graph below, but we wanted to show that parts of Hangman Creek rarely meet temperature standards for Redband Trout during the summer. While its tributaries do, Redband are unlikely to reach the sanctuary of the tributaries when Hangman’s main stem is uninhabitable from mid-May to early September.
Next year we plan to continue monitoring Hangman Creek watershed water temperature, focusing on more tributaries that may have temperature issues . We would also like to form a better picture of where the main stem of Hangman Creek gets so warm by expanding our monitoring locations into Idaho.
Thanks to intern extraordinaire Rachel Fricke for help writing and editing this blog!
Spokane Riverkeeper has been hard at work over the past few months putting together comments (see link at bottom) on draft National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits for three dischargers on the Spokane River – City of Liberty Lake Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP), City of Spokane WWTP and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), and Kaiser Aluminum, LLC. Our comments on these permits reflect the need for strong limits on pollutants entering our river.
The NPDES was established by the Clean Water Act as a program to control the amount of pollution discharged into bodies of water. The original architects envisioned achieving fishable, swimmable waters across the nation by 1987. The word “elimination” is of specific importance; the system was established with the intent that discharges would ultimately be eradicated. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states only 31% of the nation’s rivers are actually monitored for water quality. Of those rivers monitored or tracked, only 55% are clean enough to for others to swim or fish.
Permits, such as those addressed in our comments, provide timelines and limits on the pollutants discharged into the Spokane River. Large pollutants of particular attention are the nutrient total phosphorus and toxic chemicals like PCBs. However, additional pollutants have a strong presence – examples being pharmaceuticals and fire retardants – and consequences we do not yet fully understand. The regulation of all of these pollutants is important because toxins bioaccumulate in the food chain, creating alterations in the eco-balance.
These permits have strong total phosphorus limits and numerical limits proposed for PCBs that will put the river into compliance with water quality standards by 2026. We support the numbers in these permits and in fact, both total phosphorus and the numerical PCB limits in these permits are essential for a clean river. Without these numerical limits, these permits would not provide assurance that we will get to a clean river. Riverkeeper participates with Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force (SRRTTF) that is designing a plan to get our river to the Water Quality Standard (WQS) for PCBs. For this Task Force to be legitimate, it must make “measurable progress” in cleaning up PCBs in the river. Riverkeeper maintains the belief that permits are an essential part of making “measurable progress” inside the SRRTTF.
The comment period for these permits is currently closed, but NPDES Permits for Inland Empire Paper and Spokane County will open for public comment in draft form this Fall. Information on these will be sent your way via Facebook and email alerts!
Check out our comments here: waterkeeper-tlc-npdes-comments
A huge thanks to our intern Rachel Fricke for writing this blog.
A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of touring a Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) tank currently being constructed underneath Pettit Drive (better known as Doomsday Hill). The City’s investment in multiple tanks similar to the one pictured below is preventing millions of gallons of combined sewage and stormwater overflow from ending up in our river. This project and ones like it are great news for the health of the Spokane River.
So what are CSOs, and why do they exist in the first place? When Spokane’s sewer system was initially installed in the late 1800s, sewage and stormwater were removed via a singular pipe system, and all pipes drained directly into the Spokane River or Hangman Creek (!). A Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) was installed by 1958 with a capacity of 50 million gallons a day (mgd). Sewage and wastewater that were treated discharged into the river. However, on days when flow exceeds the WWTP’s maximum capacity– typically a result of precipitation or rapid snowmelt – runoff overwhelms the ability of the WWTTP to handle this combined sewage and stormwater. On these days, the excess combined pollution flows into the River before reaching the sewage treatment plant, hence the term Combined Sewage Overflow (see figure below).
Though our sewage treatment plant’s capacity has increased to a present-day maximum capacity of 150 million gallons per day, CSOs continue to occur, albeit at significantly reduced numbers. The City’s 2015 annual report found that 54 million gallons of untreated combined sewage and stormwater was discharged into the river.
To further combat CSOs, in 2005 the City of Spokane initiated a plan calling for the addition of CSO control facilities to the city’s sewer system. These control facilities are large, underground concrete tanks. In the event of an excessive flow, CSO tanks temporarily store combined sewage and stormwater until flow has decreased to the point where the treatment facility has the capacity to process the stored overflow. The tank we toured under Doomsday will have a capacity of 694,000 gallons.
Currently, 11 CSO tanks are operating with a total combined volume of 3,598,300 gallons, but during the duration of a storm, they can redirect much more combined sewage than that (Figure 3 below). For example, a December 2015 four tanks diverted 4.2 million gallons! With the completion of all tanks under construction and in design, there will ultimately be 24 tanks with a combined capacity of 14,579,300 gallons. This should essentially eliminate CSO outfalls into the river, ensuring cleaner water for humans and wildlife. For more information on CSOs, see the City’s CSO Overview/Monthly Reports, 2015 CSO Annual Report, 2005 CSO Plan Amendment, and Integrated Clean Water Plan.
A huge thanks to Rachel Fricke, our intern, for writing this blog.
This is the latest from our Justice Lunchbox Speaker series. Jacob Johns spoke about his trip to North Dakota and the water protectors opposing the pipeline.
Rachel Fricke, a Spokane native who comes to us from the University of Southern California, is our Fall Intern. Below, she discusses our recent summer temperature findings.
For the past month, I’ve had the pleasure of running around the Spokane River watershed collecting and recording data from temperature loggers that were placed back in June. Why does Riverkeeper care about temperature? Though temperature is not a physical or chemical pollutant, it has a direct impact on the organisms inhabiting our river and its tributaries.
The majority of freshwater-dwellers are cold-blooded, meaning their internal body temperature aligns with the temperature of their external environment. Should these organism’s internal temperatures become too hot, their cells begin to die, eventually causing mortality. Redband trout, a prominent species in the Spokane River ecosystem, live and spawn at an optimum temperature of 57.2° F. They can withstand temperature variances of a few degrees, but will not occupy regions where water temperature is significantly higher than optimum.
Our summer loggers from the Spokane River showed that temperatures reached their highest (~83° F) at the Harvard and Barker Road bridge crossings. This makes sense because these locations are upriver from where groundwater from the aquifer – which is cooler than surface water – begins feeding into the river. Further downriver at TJ Meenach we recorded a high of 63°F – a habitable temperature for Redband.
On Hangman Creek, our loggers recorded significantly elevated temperatures. At the mouth, where Hangman flows into the Spokane, temperatures peaked at 79° F. Just downstream from Tekoa at Waverly we recorded our highest water temperatures from the entire watershed – a whopping 84° F.
Hangman’s banks in this region have little to no riparian cover, also referred to as streamside forestation. Plant growth alongside streams is essential for healthy stream temperatures as it shades creek water. Hangman Creek’s current conditions in the Waverly area leave creek water directly exposed to the Palouse’s intense summer sun and heat, resulting in heightened water temperatures.
Check back within the coming weeks for a comprehensive report of this year’s temperature and water quality data. For more information on Redband trout, the Western Native Trout Initiative is a great reference.
Will Tender, a student at Redlands College, interned for us this summer. He volunteered his time hauling heavy loads of garbage and helping with our water quality monitoring program. I asked him to write a short summary of what he did this summer (that’s him in the blue PFD).
This summer I was given the opportunity to be an intern for the Spokane Riverkeeper. Throughout the experience I learned a lot about the Spokane River and Watershed. Pretty much every day I was in the field, working right beside the river. We rafted the river about once a week picking up several hundreds of pounds of garbage each day. Days we didn’t raft we would take groups out alongside the shore to pick up trash, go on water quality runs, place temperature loggers into the Watershed to help monitor the health of various spots on the river, as well as a variety of other tasks.
Rafting at least once a week for 3 months gives you a newfound respect and appreciation for the river. It really showed me that preservation should be taken very seriously, as something so beautiful and natural should be protected from industrialization and unnecessary pollution.
The other aspect of this experience that really altered my views was how the Riverkeeper wants people to use the river. Initially, when I began this experience I wasn’t sure the program’s stance on public usage. I thought that public usage was potentially a primary source of pollution. I came to find out that a good deal of the frequent rafters and tubers are very respectful of the river and strive to protect it. A really cool aspect of the Riverkeeper is how supportive they are of the public users, and how the program not only supports, but encourages everyone to experience the river.
Overall this opportunity opened my eyes to what goes into monitoring and protecting nature as a whole. There are so many different components that need to be addressed, and so many different players that need to be factored into the equation. This internship has been a real mentality changing experience, and I am grateful for the opportunity.