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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Group petitions for higher summer flows in Spokane River

Night falls over Riverfront Park in Spokane in late July. (Dan Pelle)
Night falls over Riverfront Park in Spokane in late July. (Dan Pelle)

RIVERS -- Spokane River advocates have petitioned the Washington Department of Ecology to increase its minimum summertime flows for the benefit of river recreation and fisheries.

“We are asking Washington state to ‘go with the flow,’ amend its inadequate flow rule, and protect the people’s river,” said John Roskelley, kayaker, author, and vice president of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, which is joined in filing the petition by the Sierra Club and American Whitewater.

Conservationists are seeking a minimum summertime flow of 1,800 – 2800 cubic feet per second.  The state agency has stayed with a minimum flow rule of 850 cfs even after a swell of public support for higher flows during a recent public comment period on the issue.

Petitioners say they have retained Doug Whittaker and Bo Shelby, who are experts in recreation and aesthetic flows from Confluence Research and Consulting, to evaluate appropriate flows. They conclude that the Department of Ecology’s adopted flows are inadequate to support most types of recreational boating on the river. Higher flows in the Spokane River, when available, should be protected.

“Spokane River fisheries need cold, abundant water,” Roskelley says in a media release.  “The Department of Ecology erred in concluding that more water is bad for fish, thereby justifying its decision not to protect Spokane River flows.” 

The group referenced a report by Allan Scholz, retired Eastern Washington University fisheries biologist and professor,  that determined that the state’s flow rule -- setting the Spokane River flow rate at 850 cfs below the Monroe Street Dam in the summer -- is inadequate to protect and restore a healthy redband trout population. Scholz concluded the scientific study prepared in support of the rate was flawed. 

Conservationists say the Department of Ecology could have accommodated the needs of both river recreationists and fish without sacrificing fish.  

According to the petitioners:

Ecology has a duty under state law and the public trust doctrine to amend the rule to adopt flows that are fully protective of all public instream values, including fish and wildlife, recreation, navigation, water quality, and scenic beauty.  Flows that are not protected are at risk to be diverted from the Spokane River for out-of-stream water uses, including Idaho pumpers, the City of Spokane, and the Office of the Columbia River’s Spokane-Rathdrum ASR project.

“Excluding rafters, kayakers, and canoeists in setting flows sets a dangerous precedent for Washington State’s rivers,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest stewardship director for American Whitewater "Our state’s river face many demands but ultimately we have a collective responsibility for the stewardship and protection of our state’s rivers, and Department of Ecology must protect the diversity of beneficial uses our rivers provide including recreation."

“The state needs to fulfill its trust and stewardship responsibilities to protect the Spokane River for present and future generations,” said Andrea Rodgers, attorney with Western Environmental Law Center. “Setting flow rates for the river that do not protect fish, sacrifice recreational boaters' uses of the river, and cost Spokane businesses needed income is an abdication of the state's legal duty.”

The Department of Ecology has 60 days to respond to the citizens’ petition. 


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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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