Spokane River Places Sixth
by Nicholas K. Geranios
American Rivers cites water withdrawal and sewage waste, and for the Snake, four dams blocking salmon
SPOKANE -- Thirty years ago, this Eastern Washington city hosted a World's Fair -- focused on environmental protection -- along the banks of the Spokane River.
Now the Spokane River has been identified as the sixth-most endangered river in the country, according to an annual report from an environmental group. The report by American Rivers identified the Snake River as the third-most endangered in the nation.
The report was set for release today.
The Spokane River faces a future of more pollution concentrated in less water as it moves through the metropolitan area, the report said.
"The Lilac City won't be smelling so sweet if officials let sewage plants dump more waste into the Spokane River," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.
Governments should stop approving more water withdrawal applications for the Spokane River and should reject a proposed sixth sewage treatment plant, the report said.
The river also is threatened by old mining wastes that flow out of Lake Coeur d'Alene, the river's source, the report said.
The Snake River, which begins in Wyoming, flows through Idaho and joins the Columbia River near the Tri-Cities of Washington. It is on the list because four dams on the Washington portion of the river are killing runs of salmon and steelhead, the group said.
The Colorado River, confronting mounting problems with radioactive, toxic and human waste, topped this year's list of 10 rivers.
The American Rivers report blamed the problems of the rivers on the White House and Congress for cutting clean water law enforcement and spending on pollution prevention. The report highlights the rivers facing the most uncertain futures, and is not a list of those with the worst chronic problems.
The banks of the Spokane River where it flowed through Spokane were once an eyesore dominated by railroad yards and industrial sites. But the area was cleaned up to become the home for Expo '74, and then transformed into Riverfront Park, the city's social core.
Now development pressure from Lake Coeur d'Alene through the Spokane metropolitan area has the river in trouble again, conservationists contend. Too much water is removed from the river for electrical generation and other uses, while too much oxygen-depleting waste is put into the water.
That causes some stretches of the river -- including the landmark Spokane Falls -- to run dry most summers.
Jani Gilbert, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Ecology in Spokane, said the river cannot be considered overtaxed because no one knows what its capacity is. Studies are only now getting started, she said. The agency is also creating plans to deal with PCBs and other pollutants in the river.
"We know that the Spokane River is sick in many respects," Gilbert said.
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