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Monday, October 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Spokane Riverkeeper: Stand up, protect water for the next generation

By Jerry White Spokane Riverkeeper

Clean water is the basis for life. As Inland Northwesterners, we’re surrounded by reminders of the central role water plays in the life of our community. Whether it is the Spokane River that flows through the center of our communities, the lakes we love to play in, or the aquifer we drink from, water is never far from the center of our lives.

And in our country, we have a gift that few other nations have. Our water is protected by a vast body of laws and regulations called the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act brought our rivers back from the brink of being little more than open sewers. Back from an era when our Spokane River ran red from pulp and paper pollution, when municipal garbage was freely dumped into the river and raw sewage made the river reek. The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, and its far-thinking architects believed that clean water was achievable by 1987. In fact, these visionaries also promised that we would one day no longer be dumping pollution of any kind into our beloved waterways. Imagine that for a moment: an end to pollution.

Sadly, powerful interests who saw the river as a tool in their industrial operations stalled this vision. Today, similar interests continue those cynical efforts. But now, those efforts are focused on rolling back the cornerstone of progress for recovering our waterways – the Washington state water quality standards for toxins like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The water quality standards are the metric by which government regulators can determine what is considered legally clean and what is considered legally polluted. If those standards are loosened, dischargers can continue to legally discharge toxins into your river, while the river is labeled “clean” before it truly is clean.

Industry consultants and operators, apparently interested only in their bottom lines, are trotting out the old trope that keeping our river clean competes with good jobs. This line has no basis in fact or history; investments in clean water and healthy fish are actually good for our economy, good for our quality of life, and are a constructive force for bringing healthy, livable jobs into our community. In fact, the City of Spokane has spent nearly $340 million in upgrades to our clean water infrastructure, with many of those dollars going into the pockets of local businesses and tradespeople, and the public receiving the benefits of a cleaner Spokane River.

The water quality standard for PCBs was put in place to protect the public and the public’s ability to safely eat fish from our river. As such, the Spokane Riverkeeper is thrilled to see the Washington State Department of Ecology take legal action against this Trump EPA rollback effort in an attempt to protect Washington state’s waters and your public safety. Further, in order to provide assurance that our community and our river get the protections that they deserve, we encourage Washington state to promulgate its own standard for PCBs that would maintain the current rule. Such action would keep in place the progress that has been made in the past two years in working toward equipment upgrades that hold to the healthier standard, and will continue to appropriately protect the lawful entitlement of communities across the state to clean, safe fish.

We encourage everyone to submit comments to the EPA asking them to stand down on rolling back protections for our waters, our fish and our river. Ask them to reject this power-grab from corporate interests who are trying to re-write the rules that affect your water and your future, merely to pad their bottom lines. Demand that the EPA not backslide on its protections, and that polluters invest in the future and work to bring their operations into compliance with the current, strict laws that are geared to do what they should – protect your river, your fish and public safety.

Water is the most essential element of life. Please stand up and be a part of protecting your water for the next generation.

Comments are open until Oct. 7 at

Spokane Riverkeeper is a guardian and advocate for the Spokane River and its watershed.

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