The state of Washington has adopted rules governing how much water must flow in the Spokane River.
The levels, announced Tuesday, disappointed rafters and environmental groups, who had pushed for keeping more water in the river.
The amount of water, called instream flow, varies by season.
It peaks at 6,500 cubic feet per second in late spring where the river roars through downtown Spokane, and tapers to 850 cubic feet per second in late summer. Each cubic foot of water is about 7 1/2 gallons.
Instream flow rules are sort of like a water right for the river, according to the state Department of Ecology. They don’t guarantee that the Spokane River will always have that much water, but they allow the state to curtail new water withdrawals when flows hit a certain threshold.
The new rules won’t affect prior water right holders, who can continue to withdraw the water they’re permitted to take. But if a new user applies for a water right, state regulators will evaluate whether the Spokane River and its connected aquifer have enough water to meet these established flow levels before allowing new withdrawals.
Brook Beeler, an Ecology spokeswoman, said department officials based the flow rule on what they determined to be “legally defensible, based on fisheries research.”
The rule applies to the main stem of the river in Spokane County and part of Stevens County.
More than 1,800 people submitted comments on the flow regulations.
Rafters wanted more water in the river during the summer, and environmental groups also criticized the summer flows as too low.
“They adopted a flow below the Monroe Street Bridge that is inadequate for fish and recreation,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, a water attorney for the Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, who indicated that the groups will consider a legal challenge.
In related news, the Ecology Department has purchased an industrial water right from Central Pre-Mix for $275,625. The water saved from retiring that use has been put into a state trust to help Spokane River flows and offset drilling of new domestic wells.
The permit had allowed Central Pre-Mix to withdraw water from the aquifer for use at its gravel pit on East Broadway Avenue.
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