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Governors Look at Western Rivers

by Chad Dundas, The Associated Press
Reader's View, Idaho Statesman - July 24, 2001

SPOKANE -- As Western governors prepare to meet in Coeur d'Alene in two weeks, their staffs are working together to improve water quality on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Officials from Idaho, Oregon, Washington and the Columbia Basin tribes attended a workshop Monday in Spokane to discuss reducing pollution and water temperature in the rivers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is helping to develop standards that will meet the federal Clean Water Act and protect endangered salmon and steelhead runs.

"This process gets some really good science in place that lays out a long-term strategy of what can be done to help these rivers," said Mary Lou Soscia, EPA's Columbia River coordinator.

Pollution levels near hydroelectric dams often exceed water-quality standards, a Washington Department of Ecology report said.

Salmon are often exposed to this pollution while going through or over the dams, the report said.

Efforts to clean up water in Washington by determining the sources of pollution will be based on those already in place in Oregon, said Paul Pickett of the Washington Department of Ecology.

"We're coming in a little late on this," Pickett said. "Oregon's been charging ahead, so we're a little behind."

The Clean Water Act requires states to prepare a list of water bodies that do not meet federal quality standards.

All water bodies on the list must meet the standard within "a reasonable period" -- either through a comprehensive cleanup plan or by mandating pollution control mechanisms.

The Washington Department of Ecology has until 2013 to develop and begin plans to clean up 643 polluted bodies of water. Most of those are effected by more than one pollutant, according to a Department of Ecology report.

Sierra Club member Chase Davis said he supported the states' efforts to clean up the rivers, but said he worried the local governments weren't moving fast enough.

"These big fish cannot wait much longer," Davis said. "When will we see, on the ground and the landscape, projects implemented for the fish?"

Steve Hays of the Chelan County Public Utility District said the number of fish in the rivers didn't decrease last year, although water levels were down.

"Maybe it's time we took a look at what the fish decide is acceptable, not what some scientists found in a laboratory," Hays said.

The Western Governors' Association will hold its annual meeting Aug. 12 through 14 at the Coeur d'Alene Resort.

Chad Dundas, The Associated Press
Governors Look at Western Rivers
Idaho Statesman, July 24, 2001

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