February 10, 2009 in City

Avista, Ecology settle river appeals

Deal lets dam relicensing move forward
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Avista Corp. and the Washington Department of Ecology on Monday announced a settlement in appeals over Spokane River water quality issues that have been holding up Avista’s federal relicensing for four dams.

Among provisions in the settlement, Avista has agreed to study ways to improve the levels of oxygen and phosphorus in the river, mainly at Lake Spokane.

Hugh Imhof, spokesman for Avista, said the settlement means that Avista will receive a certification from the Department of Ecology, which has been the last hurdle standing in the way of Avista receiving licenses from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for its Upper Falls, Monroe Street, Nine Mile and Long Lake dams.

Avista should receive its new 30- to 50-year licenses later this year, officials said.

The Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, in the appeals over DOE’s water quality certification, have been seeking higher summer flows over the Spokane Falls during late spring and summer. They agreed to other provisions in the agreement.

Ecology last year said it would require Avista to send 300 cubic feet of water per second over the Spokane Falls from 10 a.m. to an hour after sunset from Memorial Day through September. Avista has also agreed to fill channels made in the river bed at the falls. The repairs are expected to cause water to spill more widely across the rock formations in the falls, Imhof said.

Rachael Paschal Osborn, executive director of the environmental center and spokeswoman for the Sierra Club in Spokane, said the groups will carry their appeal of summer flows over the falls to the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board later this year.

She said her groups have not specified an exact amount of water needed. “How much water does a waterfall need?” she asked.

She said that DOE’s minimum flows are a step in the right direction. “Our concern is it’s not enough,” she said.

Inland Empire Paper Co., which discharges wastewater into the river, sought to bring Avista into the discussion of reducing phosphorus levels in the river. The paper company has previously said it may not be able to meet strict new wastewater discharge limits within the next decade.

Inland Empire Paper sells newsprint throughout the West and is owned by Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

DOE officials said that Avista also agreed to undertake sediment controls, enhance wetlands, increase flows from Post Falls Dam, protect fish habitat, control invasion of noxious weeds and study the buildup of gases in water during high spring flows which can harm fish.

Reach Mike Prager at (509) 459-5454 or mikep@spokesman.com.

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