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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Feds, state should give city credit for being ahead of its time on stormwater

The city of Spokane has developed a comprehensive, innovative plan for removing more pollution from the Spokane River that needs more than lip support from state and federal officials.

The Integrated Clean Water Plan approved by the City Council on Monday will get the river cleaned up faster and at less expense if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington Department of Ecology will help with about 20 percent of the $300 million-plus cost. Unfortunately, the city is ahead of its time.

City officials who were in Washington, D.C., last week say EPA officials have embraced a city plan that remediates sewage and stormwater using conventional and unconventional technology, that combines that construction with other infrastructure improvements and lowers phosphorus, PCB and toxic metal discharges into the river by the end of 2017.

Ecology officials like it, too, but not so much they are willing to forgive about $60 million of $100 million in loans already made to the city from a fund of EPA-granted dollars. In return, the city would pledge not to seek any additional money from that source.

If the $60 million can be had, by administrative or legislative means, the city will be able to hold utility rate increases to about the annual rate of inflation. In part, that assumes that predictable, low utility rates will make the city more attractive to developments that would share some of the cost burden.

That will remain the plan without outside help, but an element that addresses treatment of stormwater from the North Side will be left undone. And this is where the “faster” part of the city plan kicks in.

Runoff from the huge Cochran Basin – which encompasses much of the city between the river and Francis Avenue east to Market Street – now enters the river untreated just downstream of the T.J. Meenach Bridge. There are no regulations requiring treatment of that water now, but officials assume, probably correctly, that remediation will be required sooner or later.

So, the Integrated Clean Water Plan includes alternatives that would collect, pre-treat and infiltrate that water using sites at the Downriver disc golf course, or near the existing outflow.

With the completion of upgrades and expansion of the main water treatment plant by 2020, the city would have a state-of-the-art system capable of handling all but the most epic of weather events, and one that helped accelerate other improvements like street reconstruction.

Some components are finished; more – like the combined street/stormwater upgrades on High Drive – will get underway this summer. Every Spokane resident will benefit, and so will every other user of the Spokane’s waters between the treatment plant and the Columbia River outflow at Astoria, Oregon.

The city has engineered more than $100 million in savings from earlier, more conventional plans for complying with EPA water standards. Federal or state help that recognizes that achievement by providing financial assistance does not seem like too much to ask. In fact, it seems like a good deal for everybody, and everything around them.

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