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Thursday, May 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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County ponders wider phosphate ban

Banning phosphates may be the way to clean up the Spokane River and build an affordable new sewage treatment plant.

Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke said Tuesday that banning phosphorous from dishwashing detergent and fertilizers may be a first step toward reaching an agreement with the Washington State Department of Ecology over cleaning up the Spokane River. The county banned phosphates from laundry detergents in 1990.

Other steps could include speeding up conversion of septic tanks to the sewer system and reusing some wastewater in an industrial capacity.

And though some say the county should move forward with the ban now, others are urging waiting so that such action can be used as a negotiation tool with state regulators.

Ecology officials could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Meeting Ecology’s water quality requirements strictly by redesigning a planned new county sewage treatment plant would cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than the plant the county is proposing building.

The county and other dischargers, including the city of Spokane, Spokane Valley, Kaiser and Inland Empire Paper, have been meeting in small committees with Ecology staff to discuss solutions to the water quality problem.

Inland Empire Paper is a subsidiary of Cowles Publishing Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.

Phosphorous is the major culprit when it comes to supporting algae, reducing the amount of oxygen in the river and consequently hurting fish.

Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District officials considered last month a proposal to ban dishwashing detergents containing phosphates, but instead decided just to ask their users to adopt non-phosphate products. At the time, district officials estimated that dishwashers contribute 15 to 20 percent of the phosphorous in the sewer system.

The county saw a significant reduction in phosphorous being discharged into the river when phosphates were banned from laundry detergents, said Utilities Director Bruce Rawls.

Mielke said that much of the phosphorous in the Spokane River comes from sources other than the dischargers.

“You can shut every one of these down and still not meet the regulation,” he said.

That’s why recent discussions have included non-point sources. They include the fertilizer that people use on their lawns and animal waste running off into the river.

Ecology and dischargers will meet next week to discuss the options.

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