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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Riverkeeper, Rockford grain elevator operator agree to plan to clean up Latah Creek

The CHS Primeland facility in Rockford is seen in 2021 sending storm water runoff to nearby Rock Creek. CHS and the Spokane Riverkeeper are planning to clean up stormwater treatment.  (Kip Hill/The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Riverkeeper and a grain elevator operator in Rockford have agreed to a plan that will settle a lawsuit alleging years of violations of the Clean Water Act due to runoff into Latah Creek.

The plan was signed by U.S. District Court Judge Mary Dimke in March and directs CHS Inc. to come up with a plan to reduce emissions of zinc and copper from the site, which runs up against a Union Pacific rail spur and Rock Creek in southern Spokane County. The improvements must also improve the turbidity, or measurement of solids clouding the water, of the runoff that feeds into the creek. The company will also have to pay $151,000 to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to assist with their work in restoring fish habitat within the water shed.

Jerry White Jr., the Spokane Riverkeeper, said the agreement benefitted all parties in their efforts to improve a creek that has been designated as polluted by the Washington Department of Ecology.

“The turbidity was the one that was really troubling,” White said.

Turbid water makes it more difficult for fish to eat, by reducing their food supply, and breath, because it can affect gill function. Turbid waters can often be seen in the spring as Latah Creek empties into the Spokane River at its confluence near People’s Park.

The facility continues to have issues with water draining from the site, according to filings with the Ecology Department. The elevator was awarded a discharge permit by the agency, which allows it to release water into the nearby creek. A consultant working with CHS wrote that the facility exceeded its allowable turbidity in runoff as recently as March 23, almost double what was written as permissible in their permit.

In that memo, the consultant writes that truck strikes to a catch basin on the 10-acre site had damaged its ability to filter sediment brought in by heavy rainfall and snowmelt.

The agreement calls for CHS to also come up with a plan to install additional water treatment methods on site, including an area for rock filtration near the catch basic and what are known as grattix boxes, plantings that help filter water coming off of roofs of zinc and copper. The plan also calls for the company to provide quarterly reports to Spokane Riverkeeper, a nonprofit protecting the body of water, for the next two years detailing their runoff readings and any communication with the Department of Ecology.

In a statement, the Minnesota-based agribusiness cooperative said it was working to meet the conditions of the agreement.

“CHS is committed to the highest environmental standards in running our operations, and we are continuously improving and updating systems and practices in order to meet these standards and to ensure ongoing compliance with the Consent Decree,” the company said in a statement Saturday.

The award to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe will help them with work already underway to reintroduce salmon and other fish to the watershed, by improving stream conditions and planting along waterways to reduce eroded soil from flowing into creeks and streams. The funds will help work to restore 1,342 acres of floodplain and 2.3 miles of stream near Sanders, Idaho, according to a joint news release from the Spokane Riverkeeper and Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

“The work they’re doing actually actively works on preventing some of the same kinds of pollution that CHS is having trouble with,” White said.

The agreement settles one of two lawsuits that the Riverkeeper filed in October 2021 targeting wastewater dischargers in southern Spokane County. The nonprofit also sued the Town of Spangle, alleging its wastewater treatment facility had not removed enough solids, ammonia, bacteria and oxygen from water that was being discharged into Spangle Creek. The water temperature also exceeded its limit in the permit on dozens of occasions beginning in 2017, according to the lawsuit.

Both Spangle and Rock creeks feed into Latah Creek, which is a tributary to the Spokane River.

The federal judge handling that case has put it on hold by request of both Spangle and the Riverkeeper to allow the Ecology Department to further study the town’s sewer system. The next hearing in that case is scheduled for October.