Ted Sturdevant, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, said Wednesday that he stands behind his agency’s ambitious plan to reduce phosphorus flowing in the Spokane River.
Parts of the plan remain controversial, Sturdevant acknowledged. But he said many of the concerns raised last month during a formal dispute process can be resolved as the plan moves forward.
“We need to move ahead, so we can…actually start reducing phosphorus in the river,” he said in a prepared statement.
The plan, crafted by Ecology’s eastern regional office, aims to reduce phosphorus in the Spokane River by 90 percent, creating a better environment for fish and other aquatic creatures. Phosphorus is found in sewage and other wastewater. It acts as fertilizer, promoting algae blooms and aquatic weeds that deplete dissolved oxygen levels.
By 2020, cities and industries that discharge into the river will have to cut their phosphorus loads by 80,000 pounds annually. In some situations, 10-year extensions may be available.
Idaho dischargers, Inland Empire Paper Co., the Sierra Club and Avista Corp. have objected to parts of the plan.
Fast-growing Idaho municipalities said the plan favors Washington dischargers with more generous phosphorus discharge limits. If the playing field isn’t leveled, Idaho officials said their cities could face future building moratoriums. The Washington-based plan affects Idaho dischargers, because water in the Spokane River must meet Washington’s standards at the state line.
“Post Falls is disappointed that Ecology did not adopt the changes that Post Falls requested,” said Gary Allen, the city’s attorney. The city may end up filing a lawsuit over the plan, although Post Falls officials would prefer to find a solution outside of the courts, he added.
Inland Empire Paper officials said their Millwood newsprint plant will have trouble meeting the new limits, even after a substantial investment in new technology. The plant is a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.
The Sierra Club, meanwhile, said the Ecology Department shouldn’t allow Spokane County’s new $170 million wastewater treatment plant to discharge treated sewage into the river.
“We think it’s strictly illegal under the Clean Water Act to put new pollution into a river that is already impaired,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, the Sierra Club’s attorney, who expressed disappointment that Ecology officials hadn’t changed their stance.
The river cleanup plan will be sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which must sign off on it before it could take effect. Depending on EPA’s decision, Osborn said the Sierra Club would review its options for further appeals.
“There are a lot of unhappy parties out there,” she said. The final plan was released in February after years of work. “But in some ways, we’re just beginning,” Osborn said.