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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Don’t lower standards for Spokane River

Don Barbieri and Rachael Paschal Osborn Special to The Spokesman-Review

Our region is faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get it right for the Spokane River. With huge capital investments in sewage treatment (both upgrades and a new facility) and the relicensing of five of Avista’s dams, we are setting the table for the next 25 to 50 years for our kids and grandkids.

If they are to see a thriving river, we’ve got it do it right – right now. The Spokane River is the signature for our communities and needs our best care and efforts.

Lots of ideas are being tossed around about the best way to fix the Spokane River. It is worthwhile to examine all reasonable proposals and see if they ring true. But, no matter what, we cannot lower our standards. In fact, we must reach higher to ensure that the river is protected. Nothing less than complete restoration is appropriate for Spokane’s most important and central natural resource.

Let’s bring back the salmon. The historic salmon fisheries of the Spokane River have long been blocked by two impressive barriers – Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams. But fish passage at these dams is on the agenda to study and implement in the next 20 years.

As we wait for salmon’s arrival, we can also re-introduce the Lake Roosevelt Kokanee made possible by the efforts of the Colville and Spokane tribal hatcheries.

We need to join with our Native American partners to ensure that the Spokane River is ready and healthy for the fish when they arrive.

Let’s clean up the toxics. A century of mining and industrial pollution has left a terrible legacy. Heavy metals and PCBs lace the bed and banks of the river. This is a serious public health issue that is also killing our fish.

In the coming year, environmental agencies will unveil cleanup plans for metals and toxics. We must not shirk from full cleanup. We cannot live with anything less.

Let’s meet and exceed water quality standards. Thirty-three years ago Congress enacted the Clean Water Act with the goal to make all rivers, including the Spokane, safe for fishing and swimming. Even though our municipal sewage treatment plants installed the best technology at that time, our river has never met the standards set by law.

It was all we knew then — we know better now! Our current technology is obsolete; it is time to invest in significant improvements.

Some say we can’t afford to install the most modern equipment. We say: Our community cannot afford to do anything less.

Let’s restore the river’s flow. Spokane’s per capita water usage is among the highest in the nation – nearly 600 gallons per person per day in late summer. All of our drinking water comes from the aquifer – but we now understand that when we pump the aquifer, we also rob the river.

Go, look at the river. This year’s flows are already lower than normal. Unless the next few weeks bring heavy snows to the upper watersheds, summertime flows will be terrible.

Let’s start conserving water now and find ways to get natural flows back into the Spokane River.

Let’s restore the waterfalls. On May 4, 1974, 85,000 people gathered at the Spokane Falls to celebrate the first environmental world’s fair. But the work begun at Expo ‘74 has never been finished. Three million visitors walk Riverfront Park every summer, only to see the river’s north and middle channels dry.

It is time to put water back into our river and get Spokane’s signature feature – our beautiful waterfalls – flowing again.

Above all, let us not compromise our standards. Let us look to the future, our children and grandkids, and envision the river we want them to have.

Let us make that river a reality. With care and integrity, we can restore the Spokane River we all love so much.

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