The Spokane Riverkeeper program was founded in 2009, but the foundation for the program was started a half decade before that. In 2004, the Center for Justice began the Spokane River Project with three main objectives:
•To reduce the effect of human activity on the river and expedite the restoration of water quality and water quantity.
• To be a force for institutional change among local and state decision makers and industrial river users to improve stream flows and water quality.
• To educate and inspire citizens about the importance of river issues and the need for river protection.
Though the Spokane River Project has evolved, those same core objectives continue to drive Spokane Riverkeeper today.
Why? Because the Spokane River and its tributaries are in trouble
- Legacy pollution from mining and other industrial activities
- A culture of non-compliance of the Clean Water Act and other regulations
- Health warnings about Spokane River fish
- Dams that are impacting river flow and nutrient levels including inadequate flow from Avista’s Post Falls Dam
- The overuse and mismanaged Spokane Valley / Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer
- Superfund cleanups
- Untreated sewage and stormwater still entering the river and tributaries
….and the list goes on
These above issues and more have left their mark on the Spokane River watershed. Collectively, these problems create public health concerns and contribute to the degradation of aquatic habitat and fishing resources. Spokane Riverkeeper envisions a community where those who live here and use the river and aquifer work together to zealously protect this signature resource that is so vital to the economic, aesthetic, and environmental health of our region.
Here’s what we’re doing about it
- Patrolling and Monitoring - Spokane Riverkeeper actively patrols and monitors the Spokane River and the tributaries as well as monitoring construction and industrial sites that could impact stormwater
- Legal Action - We enforce the Clean Water Act through legal action.
- Active Engagement - We pursue the Clean Water Act’s goals through active engagement with business, government agencies and citizens.
- Governmental Involvement - We get involved at many levels of government and legislation to toughen pollution standards.
- Outreach and Education – We work to inform citizens of the Spokane River basin including students, educators, business leaders, elected officials, key stakeholders, river user groups and more about the Spokane River, issues concerning the River and its tributaries and what those citizens can do to get engaged.
- Business Partnerships - We create partnerships with business to help them understand pollution issues and ultimately reduce their contribution to pollution.
- River clean ups - Throughout the year Riverkeeper organizes and conducts and helps organize a handful of River clean ups, including helping with the big city-wide clean up in the Fall and including smaller neighborhood clean ups of stormwater management features like rain gardens and swales.
MEETING SPOKANE RIVER NEEDS
Thousands of hours and millions of dollars each year are spent on regulatory actions, studies, and on-the-ground actions to address Spokane River issues. Some of the most prominent include:
- Aquifer use and protection
- Dam relicensing
- Enhancing and protecting fish and wildlife habitat
- Issuing permits to municipal and industrial facilities
- Cleaning up litter and hazardous waste
- Reducing persistent toxic chemicals and heavy metals
- Managing river flows
- Supporting recreational access
- Managing the shoreline
- Improving water quality
- Watershed planning
Here are some of our key objectives and issues with more detail:
Our goal is to reduce polluted stormwater from entering the Spokane River and to educate the public and the business community about low impact development, or cost effective storm drainage and landscape management systems. You can read more about our stromwater strategy on our Stormwater page.
Toxics and Heavy Metals
Toxic pollution is complicated, especially difficult to find and remove, and even though in many cases the substances are no longer manufactured, they continue to persist in the environment and are found everywhere. They pollute the Spokane River because they are in wastewater, stormwater and much more diffuse sources. Riverkeeper works to educate the public on toxic pollution and towards toxics reduction. You can learn more about our work on our Toxics, Metals and the Spokane River page.
Spokane Riverkeeper is a member of the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force (SRRTTF) and was instrumental in forming said Task Force. The SRRTFF was formed as a result of a requirement in the Washington NPDES wastewater discharge permits issued by the Department of Ecology for facilities discharging in to the Spokane River. The intent of the SRRTTF is to collaboratively work on toxics reduction and education and outreach. You can read more about this endeavor on our Toxics Task Force page.
Redband Trout recovery
We are working to reverse the decline of redband trout, a native species to the Spokane River. A healthy native trout population is not only a barometer of overall ecosystem health, but a great economic driver to the region via recreation and tourism. Currently we are fighting permits for docks on the Spokane River, docks that would harm redband trout populations. You can read more about our Coyote Rock Case HERE.
Clean Water Act Enforcement
Our efforts center on ensuring NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permits for facilities in Washington and Idaho meet all applicable water quality standards, protect human health, and preserve the environment. We also educate the public about getting involved in the permitting process.
The strategies we use here include engaging in pre-draft stakeholder processes and submitting written comments to draft permits and then legally appealing permits that don’t meet the standards of the Clean Water Act. Then we enforce the permits ourselves through citizen Clean Water Act suits.
Combined Sewer Overflows
In recent years, the City of Spokane’s combined sewer overflows have discharged thousands of gallons of raw, untreated sewage into the Spokane River. We’ve been working with Sierra Club and the city to enforce the Clean Water Act, protect the river and safeguard public health. To read much more about CSO’s and to view interactive maps of where they’re located, please visit our special Spokane River CSO page HERE.
Water Quality Restoration Plans (TMDLs)
We’re watch-dogging the TMDL (total maximum daily load) formulations for the Spokane River and its tributaries, to ensure they meet all applicable federal, state, and tribal water quality requirements. TMDLs are required by the federal Clean Water Act for waterways afflicted by chronic pollution. The Act requires that once waterways are listed as out of compliance, plans be developed with enforceable objectives and timelines to address each specific pollutant (or pollution effect, such as low dissolved oxygen) so that the water quality standard is achieved. Currently, the Spokane River is out of compliance for dissolved oxygen, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dissolved metals.
Dissolved Oxygen Controversy
With Sierra Club and other clients and partners, the Center has worked for several years to reach an agreement with regulators and river dischargers on a feasible and legally defensible compliance plan to greatly reduce the discharge of phosphorus and other nutrients to the Spokane River. The nutrients fuel algae growth that, in turn, causes eutrophication and low dissolved oxygen levels that are harmful to native fish and other aquatic life.
Again, education makes a difference. We inform water purveyors about water conservation measures they can share with their customers. And we work to stop the issuance of water rights permits that fail to adequately incorporate water conservation or address their effects on the Spokane River and the aquifer.
Working with a group of local organizations including The Lands Council and Sierra Club, we are actively opposing the export of coal from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana to Asia via terminals on the westside. This coal would be transported via train through Spokane, spewing toxic coal dust, putting our safety and health at risk, clogging up our railroads and ports, putting our aquifer and River resources at risk, and stoking the climate crisis all the way. You can read more about this issue on our “Beyond Coal” page.