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Keep The River Just The Way It Is

The city of Spokane proposes to raise Upriver Dam and wipe out the most popular half-mile of rapids along the Centennial Trail.

The project’s goal is to gain revenue and cut costs in the city’s $21 million-a-year water department budget. Estimated benefits range from $57,000 to $170,000 a year. The higher estimate is the city’s; the lower is the federal government’s.

That’s absurd, alongside the damage this proposal would do.

The damage is documented in a draft environmental impact statement, prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The city has asked FERC for permission to raise its dam 1-1/2 feet, thereby increasing the dam’s capacity to generate electricity. The power runs pumps that pull city drinking water from the ground. Excess power is sold, generating revenue for the city.

Dams throughout this region, including seven on the Spokane River, have changed rivers into lakes. We have enough slackwater.

With construction of the Centennial Trail, people by the thousands have begun to realize the aesthetic, recreational and wildlife value of a moving river. The trail follows the Spokane River’s longest free-flowing stretch. FERC’s impact statement examines the damage the city threatens to do there.

The damage would occur in the Valley, outside city limits.

Two hundred shoreline trees would collapse into the raised reservoir, creating boating hazards.

Trout habitat would be destroyed, replaced with sucker habitat. Now, bald eagles feed on the trout. Fly fishermen line the banks. High school classes watch the trout spawn - from a bridge that in the future would look down on slackwater.

The slackwater would be polluted. In the existing reservoir, sediment, water and fish are contaminated with PCBs, lead, cadmium, zinc and other impurities. In a longer reservoir such contamination would spread. Slower-moving bodies of water contain less oxygen and are more easily harmed by pollution. So, those permitted to discharge water to the river upstream may face even tougher restrictions, at unknown cost; this would affect Liberty Lake’s sewage plant, Kaiser Aluminum and the Inland Empire Paper Co., an affiliate of this newspaper.

Four acres of Donkey Island, including an acre of wetland, would be submerged.

Kayakers and canoeists would lose a popular stretch of whitewater - one uniquely suited, and regularly used, for paddling classes as well as for rafting trips by groups of disabled persons.

In summer, this is the Centennial Trail’s busiest section, at up to 250 bicyclists and hikers per hour.

Trail users ought to dedicate themselves to fighting this proposal. The city, a supporter of the Trail, should drop its plans. The project is not worth it.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board

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