Testing the Waters
by Stephanie Smith
KLEWTV.com, April 8, 2009
CLARKSTON - The Washington Department of Ecology has a system for making sure the Snake River is staying relatively clean. It involves monthly check-ups.
"We took some water samples from the Snake River," said Ecology Natural Resource Scientist Jim Ross Wednesday, during one of those checkups. "It's part of our ambient monitoring program. We have 80 sites statewide. We have 20 in Eastern Washington and we have monitored some of them for as long as 20 years."
Ross gets samples of water by lowering containers into the river from atop the blue bridge.
"We sample for about 15 parameters, all the nutrients, fecal, chloroform, bacteria, sediment, pH, conductivity and then every other month we test for metals to see if there is any heavy metal contamination," said Ross.
He also checks the temperature and clarity of the water. Once the samples are collected, he labels and runs a couple of the tests right in his truck. The rest of the samples are put on ice for his trip back up to the Department of Ecology in Spokane.
"The Snake River is in pretty good shape comparatively for Eastern Washington streams, it's got more water than most of them, the clarity is good, there is very few chemicals that it's listed for, most of them are legacy pesticides, herbicide and PCB that are in the sediments," said Ross.
Ross said that from time to time the Snake River has exceeded the standard for pH.
"pH balance is related to a lot of things, the temperature, the source streams feeding the river, the time of day even, the amount of oxygen in the water," said Ross. "So the Snake River has some violations for pH. The water quality standard in Washington is 8.5 and like today when we ran pH it was at 8.57, so it was just right on the bubble."
Ross said that unlike the Spokane River, there are not any fish health advisories for the Snake River. But he said it is important for homeowners and others to try and minimize what they allow into the river.
"Well some of the important things would be if you live right along the river leave a buffer between your lawn and the river, don't over-fertilize, don't wash your car right next to the river where the suds are going into the water," said Ross.
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