New permits to reduce the flow of phosphorus into the Spokane River are still at least a year away, federal officials reiterated Thursday.
“We are mindful of the urgency factor,” said Christine Psyk, associate director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water.
“Spokane County is embarking on a project to build a sewer treatment plant.”
As early as next week, the county could approve the principles of a contract with CH2M Hill for a $145 million sewage treatment plant. The county needs a wastewater discharge permit by mid-2010, said Utilities Director Bruce Rawls. Delays would “affect our ability to finance and build the plant,” he said.
Spokane County is counting on $65 million in low-interest loans from the state’s Water Pollution Control Revolving Loan Fund.
However, borrowing from the fund is dependent on getting the discharge permit, Rawls said.
In addition, the county projects that it will exhaust its allotted treatment capacity at the city of Spokane’s sewer treatment plant by 2013. If Spokane County doesn’t have its own plant operating by that time, the county could face building moratoriums, Rawls said.
A multiyear effort to issue new pollution discharge permits for the Spokane River came to a halt in September, when the EPA announced that it had erred in calculating phosphorus discharge limits for Idaho users.
Washington’s Department of Ecology was on the brink of issuing new permits to dischargers on the Washington side of the river that would have cut the long-term phosphorus output by 95 percent. Now, the permits must be recalculated, a process that involves extensive computer modeling.
Phosphorus is harmful to the river’s aquatic health.
Found in fertilizers and treated sewage, it contributes to algae blooms and water quality problems in the reservoir behind Long Lake Dam. As the algae decays, dissolved oxygen levels in the lake plummet, harming the lake’s rainbow trout population.
Idaho cities also need certainty about their discharge limits, Post Falls’ public works director Terry Werner told EPA officials.
Post Falls plans to expand its sewage treatment plant to process 1 million additional gallons of sewage each day. New discharge limits will affect the operation.
“We have a growing population,” Werner said. “It would be nice to know where we’re headed.”
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