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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Updated: Spokane River flows low; water use soars

A dead German brown trout floats in the Spokane River near Harvard Road in July 2015. (Spokane Riverkeeper)
A dead German brown trout floats in the Spokane River near Harvard Road in July 2015. (Spokane Riverkeeper)

Updated: 8/11/15 at 10 a.m. -- Correcting river flows, which are higher than first reported.

DROUGHT -- Water levels in the Spokane River are low and water use is soaring, indicating a good time to educate the public about water conservation for the good of the river and the fish and wildlife that depend on it.

Yesterday I reported that the river level had dropped below 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) for the first time this summer -- that's the minimum level before outflows start affecting the level of Lake Coeur d'Alene. 


USGS officials contacted Dr. John Osborn of the Sierra Club, who posted the notice, that river flows actually are in the range of 600-700 cfs.

"We took our information off the USGS website, but the website also notes that data is subject to revisions," Osborn said. "In this case, the data changed."

However, while the immediate consequences are not so dire -- and Lake CdA levels aren't coming down -- Dr. Osborn's diagnosis and treatment remains the same.  "The river is low, fish and wildlife are stressed, recreation use is impared and we waste water from the aquifer," he said. "None of that has changed. We need to rethink the way we live in a world that's increasingly thirsty."

Reinforcing his statement is this news report today from Western Washington: West Side cities as residents to cut water use.

Here's the rest of my original post:

Meanwhile, City of Spokane water use is at an all-time high, says John Osborn, a local water-use expert:  "3.8 billion gallons in July, or 122 million gallons of water each day," he said.

Osborn and others have launched a campaign to educate fishermen and the public on the connection between the Spokane River and water use from the region's aquifer.

“Our Spokane River is in trouble, and we must conserve water,” said Osborn, referring to the new H2KNOW water conservation campaign.  “We must use water wisely to help our struggling river.”  

"Water supply is provided by groundwater from the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer.  The aquifer also supplies water to the Spokane River.  Increased groundwater pumping for human use directly depletes flow in the river."

Hot temperatures approaching 100 degrees are forecast again for much of this week.  Drought combined with excessive water use by the 500,000 people living in this basin are causing near historic extremes in low flow for the Spokane River, Osborn said. 

"The lowest flows ever recorded are in the mid-400 cfs range, (and we are in the low range) according to the USGS Spokane River gage.  Low flows harm fish, wildlife, recreational opportunities, and businesses that depend on the river."

“Conserve water for the river’s sake,” said Tom Soeldner, a retired Lutheran pastor who co-chair’s Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group.  “There is a void in leadership from our government on water conservation during this drought.  We as individuals must take responsibility for protecting our Spokane River.”

Former Spokane Mayor Mary Verner attempted to reduce water consumption by requiring extra payments for heavy users.  She was quickly unelected.

Here are five actions people can take to conserve water and help our Spokane River -- with no political ramifications:

  1. Reduce outdoor watering (especially stop overwatering grass)
  2. Fix broken or clogged pipes and sprinkler heads
  3. Fix leaks in all plumbing fixtures
  4. Install water-efficient devices (such as low flow toilets and shower heads)
  5. Replace your law with low-water plants

"Comparing flows now with prior years underscores the terrible condition of the river and the need for people to act," Osborn said.  "One year ago, in 2014, lowest flows were about 900 cfs.  

"When Spokane was a young city in the 1890s, flows ranged from 1500-2000cfs in August." 

River flows are monitored at a stream gage near the Monroe Street dam, the oldest continuous gage in Washington State.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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