The Spokane River Stewardship Partners are frequently asked the following questions. If you have additional questions, please click here to contact the SRSP.
>> Who are the Spokane River Stewardship Partners?
The Spokane River Stewardship Partners (SRSP) is a coalition of government and business organizations composed of experienced conservationists, engineers, scientists and operators, whose responsibility is to protect and improve water quality while serving communities in the region. The SRSP includes Spokane County, the cities of Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls, the Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District, Hayden Area Regional Sewer Board, Avista and Inland Empire Paper Company. The SRSP members are committed to protecting one of our region’s most valuable environmental resources, the Spokane River. Members of the SRSP consider it essential to their jobs and the well-being of the communities in which they work and live.
>> Why did the SRSP form?
The Spokane River Stewardship Partners formed to address mutual concerns about the health of the Spokane River and Lake Spokane. The SRSP works together to ensure the river’s long-term health and to address water quality concerns raised by state and federal regulatory agencies. The SRSP is committed to finding collaborative solutions that protect the environment, allow for continued regional economic growth, and make good use of taxpayer, ratepayer and customer dollars.
>> What water quality issues does the Spokane River face?
After a century or more of neglect and abuse, Inland Northwest communities recognized the need to change and improve the quality of our river in the latter half of the 20th century. As a result, today’s river is much cleaner and healthier. The Spokane River contains an excess of phosphorus and other nutrients that have helped cause a depletion of dissolved oxygen in the water, in particular within Lake Spokane. Scientific studies completed earlier in the decade found that levels of oxygen in the river and lake were below Washington’s water quality standards. The Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have set new limits for phosphorus and other nutrients associated with low dissolved oxygen to address this situation. These new limits are incorporated into a water quality cleanup plan to reduce phosphorus from all sources. This cleanup plan is also called a “total maximum daily load” or TMDL process. There are also concerns about water temperature, PCBs, and heavy metals from historic mining and industrial uses along our river. State and federal regulators have been addressing the metals problems in the river for a number of years. They are addressing PCBs through a “direct to implementation approach” that involves the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force (SRRTTF) of which each of the SRSPs are members.
>> Why are nutrients like phosphorus a problem?
Phosphorus is a fertilizer. When too much phosphorus is in the river, algae and other plants thrive, depleting the water body of oxygen and harming fish populations. Phosphorus levels in Lake Spokane are more problematic during dry summer months when river flows are low.
>> Where does the phosphorus come from?
A certain amount of phosphorus occurs naturally in our environment. Phosphorus also comes from both “point” and “non-point” sources. Point sources of phosphorus include discharges of treated wastewater from public and industrial wastewater treatment plants. Non-point sources include phosphorus that enters the river from septic tanks, spring run-off, fertilizers, animal waste, stormwater, and other sources. A regional study of non-point sources was completed in 2011. The Spokane River Watershed Non-point Source Phosphorus Reduction Plan identifies and characterizes types of non-point sources that contribute phosphorus to Lake Spokane, identifies best management practices for reduction of the loads.
>> How can phosphorus be reduced?
The SRSP looks for ways to work together to reduce phosphorus from point and non-point sources. Phosphorus reduction activities could include advanced filtration and other new technology at all point sources, along with comprehensive measures to conserve water, reduce “non-point” phosphorus sources, and re-use treated water for irrigation. In recent years, some members of the SRSP advocated banning dishwasher detergent containing phosphorus within Spokane County. The City of Spokane reports a 12 to 14 percent drop in phosphorus coming to its wastewater treatment plant since the ban was instituted. Additionally, some members of the SRSP participated with others to support passage of a Washington law, effective January 2013, limiting the use of phosphorus (except in certain circumstances) in residential lawn fertilizers.
>> What would a plan like this cost?
The SRSP estimates that improvements worth hundreds of millions of dollars will be needed to address phosphorus reduction and other water quality concerns. These improvements would be paid for by taxpayers, ratepayers and customers from both the public and private sectors.
>> What is the timeline for this process?
Following the 2010 issuance and EPA approval of Ecology’s Spokane River and Lake Spokane DO TMDL, the SRSP have implemented the following:
- The Washington dischargers received discharge permits in 2011 and with the exception of Spokane County, are on a 10-year timeline to implement tertiary treatment in order to meet the nutrient limits identified in their discharge permits. Spokane County built a new facility, operational in 2011, and implemented tertiary membrane bioreactor treatment to help meet its discharge limits at that time.
- The Idaho dischargers began planning, design, and/or construction work toward eventual tertiary systems in advance of receiving their permits. The renewed permits with provisions related to the DO TMDL were issued effective December 1, 2014. Similar to the Washington permits, the Idaho permits provide a 10-year timeline to construct and implement necessary upgrades.
Avista has been implementing its Lake Spokane DO Water Quality Attainment Plan since 2012 with the objective of improving dissolved oxygen through phosphorus non-point source reduction efforts around Lake Spokane.
>> What is the SRSP’s goal for this planning process?
The Spokane River Stewardship Partners seek an overall solution to water quality issues that is comprehensive, achievable and affordable for the citizens of our region. They continue to invest in new technologies and innovative thinking to reach our collective goal.
>> Where can I find more information?