One of the longest and snowiest winters in recent memory is about to melt away. The river is already filling with spring runoff, giving a trial run for Spokane’s largest ever public works construction endeavor: The Integrated Clean Water Project.
You may have noticed the large underground tanks going in around the city of Spokane; a $340 million series of improvements intended to get us a cleaner river, faster. The tanks hold back sewage and stormwater overflow during heavy runoffs. This prevents untreated sewage PCBs, and road surface toxins from being discharged into the river.
Our city and our citizens are making a tremendous investment in preventing pollution from entering our river, but there’s more work ahead to restore and protect our community’s greatest natural asset. Pollution, stormwater, even overflow sewage continue to challenge the vitality of the River and our community. The Spokane is a tributary to the Columbia. What we do affects all river communities downstream. We’ve got to continue to build on the good work so far.
The costs of these pollution prevention efforts have been largely shouldered by local citizens through our water bills, although credit can also be given to the county and major industries for investing in processes to reduce the introduction of toxics into the river through the Spokane Regional Toxics Taskforce. A portion of the costs for the Integrated Clean Water Project and for preventing phosphorous from getting into the river has been met through grants from the state’s Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) account. MTCA is a tax on petroleum products and the account is administered by Washington’s Department of Ecology.
Over the last two years, local stormwater projects, especially on Spokane’s North Side, have been delayed due to a shortfall of expected MTCA funding. MTCA has funded clean-up activities at over and 6,200 sites statewide over the last 28 years. These funds also are targeted to prevent future cleanup sites. For Spokane, nearly $5 million in MTCA funds expected to fund our local efforts never arrived due to a drop in petroleum and gas prices.
State leaders are now discussing re-prioritizing the list of MTCA funded projects, which could put Spokane’s expected share at risk – and potentially require local citizens to pay more.
Now is the time for Spokane residents and leaders to make our voices heard. Legislators in Olympia are working to create Washington’s budget for the next two years. We have a rare opportunity for a political win-win.
If we restore and stabilize toxic cleanup and prevention funding and continue to build stormwater infrastructure, we can fund projects that continue to make our river cleaner. A clean river is good for our environment, our community and our economy.
If the legislature does not secure funding in the state budget, these crucial stormwater projects may be delayed again or pushed further down the list, risking jobs and environmental progress. Spokane has been a quiet leader tackling the tough job of water pollution cleanup, but it’s time for our city to speak up. Let’s let the rest of the state know Spokane is putting its money where its river is, for the benefit of our community, those downstream and the entire state.
Let’s make sure our legislators hear loud and clear that Spokane’s stormwater projects have a statewide impact and deserve state financial support as well.
Amber Waldref and Candace Mumm are Spokane City Council members.