Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Proposed aquifer user fees raise questions

Nobody seems to be opposed to protecting the water quality of the Rathdrum Prairie aquifer, but some Kootenai County residents questioned Thursday the amount of a proposed user fee and who would oversee the program.

A steering committee plans to ask the 2006 Idaho Legislature to create an aquifer protection district that would generate money to protect the water source that serves more than 500,000 people in Kootenai and Spokane counties.

About 25 people came to Thursday’s meeting at Post Falls City Hall armed with questions about who would pay how much and why. The city broadcast the meeting on Cable Channel 13.

Carla Skinner of Post Falls wanted to know why she would have to pay the same amount as her neighbor who maintains a five-acre pond and irrigates.

Ray Grannis, who owns gas stations, wanted to know why his business was going to have to pay when it already is charged fees to operate over the aquifer.

Larry Spencer of Spirit Lake questioned the need to put another burden on low income people and the elderly on fixed incomes.

Committee members, including Reps. Bob Nonini and Frank Henderson, both Post Falls Republicans, said the fee is focused on water quality, not quantity, so all residents will pay the same no matter how much water they use. Henderson said it might be possible for people with financial hardships to ask for an exemption.

Buell Hollister of Hauser said people with septic tanks should pay more than people hooked into city sewers. Unlike Grannis, he thought businesses should pay more. Hollister also questioned putting the Kootenai County Commission in charge of overseeing the budget when it’s the entity that approved the BNSF Railway refueling depot that leaked petroleum into the aquifer.

“They’ve made pretty serious mistakes,” he said.

To start, the fee would be about $8 per year for residents living over the aquifer or in an aquifer recharge area. It could eventually go up to $24 per year. Businesses would pay no more than $48 per year.

The aquifer and recharge areas include the southern portion of Lake Pend Oreille along with prairie near Hauser, Spirit, Twin, Hayden and Coeur d’Alene lakes.

The initial fee would generate a $350,000 annual budget that would be collected and distributed by the county commission after it gets recommendations from an advisory committee.

The money would help fund monitoring, enforcement and protection programs aimed at keeping the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer clean and drinkable.

“These funds are to protect the aquifer, not to clean it up,” said Geoff Harvey of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. “The aquifer is in good shape and we want to keep it that way.”

Primary pollution concerns are wastewater, storm water and chemicals.

Dick Martindale of the Panhandle Health District said there are about 3,000 dry wells over the aquifer that collect runoff from roofs and parking lots that drain straight into the aquifer without any kind of treatment.

One Post Falls man said the idea is noble, but there’s no reason for it if the money doesn’t go to actually shut down these dry wells.