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

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Tom Agnew: More reasons to love the Inland Northwest

By Tom Agnew Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District commissioner

In our lifetime, the Spokane River and the Rathdrum Prairie/Spokane Valley aquifer have never been cleaner, and they are becoming cleaner still. We are the first generation to enjoy such a legacy. How did this happen? The short answer is by everyone working together.

In 2000 the focus was on phosphorus. Phosphorus is very difficult and expensive to remove and can create algae blooms that ruin lakes and rivers. Inland Northwest sewer plant operators deduced that banning its use in soaps and fertilizers would eliminate these major sources. Procter and Gamble and the National Soap Manufacturers’ Association came to town to argue against the local ban. Yet soon the phosphorus ban was statewide and eventually nationwide. Inland Northwest attempts to keep lakes and rivers phosphorus-free eventually impacted the entire planet. Many who helped create the ban locally took great satisfaction in Procter and Gamble’s 2014 decision to eliminate phosphorus from its supply chain worldwide.

Ten years ago, with direction and support from Washington, Idaho and federal regulators, the major local industrial and municipal water reclamation plants invited environmental, tribal, community groups and citizens at large to participate in the formation of a task force that continues today. The Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force meets regularly to identify and remove pollution sources, design studies, research new possibilities, and share results in search of state-of-the-art protections for our drinking water and river.

At the December task force meeting a regional EPA manager explained that Inland Northwest PCB remediations are setting precedent. Task force work done here is being modeled nationally. Local efforts are again attracting national attention.

The current focus of task force work is PCBs. A probable carcinogen, PCBs were banned in 1979, but they remain ubiquitous to this day and can still legally be produced in some manufacturing processes. One source is pigment used in dyes and ink. HP recently reduced PCBs in its printer ink. Now Apple has done the same in their ink products. Once again Inland Northwest efforts helped trigger corporate business decisions that will reduce pollution globally.

Preventing pollution from entering a water system is part of the solution. Effective wastewater treatment is also very important. Inland Northwest citizens should take a bow. Each of the water reclamation plants, from Lake Coeur d’Alene to Lake Spokane, is installing or already operating state of the art treatment technology, a major investment made possible by local ratepayers and businesses.

The work continues and there is much to be done. Task force teamwork and participation combined with professional operations staff and cutting-edge science and technology spawns synergy that will continue to realize cleaner, healthier water bodies.

Let’s take a moment to recognize and congratulate you, the people who make this possible. You pay for it. You expect and deserve the best water and wastewater treatment, and you get it. Our sole source aquifer provides excellent water quality which is protected by the best water reclamation technologies available. Like the river and aquifer, Inland Northwest wastewater treatment systems, in our lifetime, have never been better, and they’re getting better still.