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Spokane River places sixth on group's endangered list
American Rivers cites water withdrawal and sewage waste, and for the Snake, four dams blocking salmon
NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS, The Oregonian
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.
Most Endangered Rivers of 2004 announced
April 14, 2004
Eric Eckl, Betsy Otto, (202)
(Washington, D.C.) America's rivers and streams are becoming more polluted -- and the White House and Congress are making a bad situation worse by cutting clean water law enforcement and spending on pollution prevention, charged American Rivers with the release of its 2004 Most Endangered Rivers report. The Colorado River, confronting mounting problems with radioactive, toxic, and human waste, topped this year's list of ten rivers. It supplies the water for 25 million people, including residents of Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
"The rivers on this year's list face particularly dire futures but they are not unique," said Rebecca R. Wodder, president of American Rivers. "They are poster children for a nationwide trend towards more polluted waters and less effort to clean them up."
America's waters became progressively cleaner for decades after Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, but recent monitoring data indicates that this trend has reversed itself. For example, sampling at estuaries across the country in 2000 found that more than half were "impaired" - up from 37% in 1994. Estuaries are good indicators of broad water quality trends as they receive pollution from every stream and river in their watershed. American Rivers predicts that actions taken by the Bush administration will accelerate this decline.
In particular, the administration has reduced the number of Clean Water Act enforcement actions, levied fewer and smaller fines on lawbreakers, and created new loopholes on behalf of polluting industries. The administration failed to disclose the results of an internal audit, which found that one-quarter of all major industrial and wastewater treatment facilities are in "significant violation" of the law at any one time.
"The president's clean water record can be summed up in three words: soft on crime," Wodder said.
The White House and Congress have also shortchanged communities seeking a helping hand to clean up their waters. The federal government's share of sewage treatment construction costs has fallen from 20% to just 5% - and the White House seeks to cut federal funding by another third in 2005. Congress has effectively shifted the burden of cleaning up contaminated river bottoms and other toxic sites from polluters to the public, and the number of sites cleaned up each year has dropped by almost half. Congress has yet to reauthorize the trust fund that pays for efforts to treat polluted water draining out of thousands of abandoned coalmines in the Ohio River watershed.
"Letting our kids splash in the creek, eating a fish we caught on a camping trip, and drinking water from the tap without worry are things that Americans should be able to take for granted," Wodder said. "Washington is misspending our money if our children won't enjoy these things, too."
About America's Most Endangered
America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2004
#1 Colorado River (CO, UT, AZ, NV,
#2 Big Sunflower River (MS)
#3 Snake (WY, ID, OR, WA)
#4 Tennessee (TN, AL, MS, KY)
#5 Allegheny and Monongahela rivers
(WV, PA, NY)
#6 Spokane River (ID, WY)
#7 Housatonic River (MA, CT)
#8 Peace River (FL)
#9 Big Darby Creek (OH)
#10 Mississippi River (MN, WI, IA,
IL, MO, KY, TN, AR, MS, LA)
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