Friday, May 28, 2010

River cleanup plan is historic pivot point

Jani Gilbert, Communication Manager, Eastern Region Office

On May 14, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed a letter that moves this community from talking about cleaning up the Spokane River and Lake Spokane to actually doing the work to clean them up.

The enormity of this accomplishment may not be apparent because of the differences of opinion on the best way to protect the health of the river. But at the Department of Ecology, we consider it great news that the EPA has approved the Spokane River/Lake Spokane Dissolved Oxygen Water Quality Improvement Report.

It’s an event worth celebrating in Spokane—great news for the Spokane area, for people who use the river, and for the fish who depend on it.

The EPA signed the letter to formally approve the report, which is often referred to as the total maximum daily load (TMDL) report.

This report, 12 years in the making, requires a reduction in phosphorus pollution from industrial and municipal pipes by approximately 87,000 pounds of phosphorus a year—a 90 percent reduction.

What this means is a gigantic reduction in algae and other aquatic plants that use up the oxygen that fish need to survive. It means not slipping on rocks covered in slimy green algae and getting rid of toxic blue-green algae that threatens swimmers and household pets and wildlife each summer.

It means cleaner, clearer healthier water.

Due to the sensitivity of the Spokane River system, the phosphorous limits for industrial and municipal discharges are among the most stringent in the country.

It's not going to be easy, but the municipalities and industries that discharge waste water into the Spokane River will have help all along the way from the Department of Ecology as we implement the requirements of the plan together through the next decade.

The result? Spokane will have truly earned its tag line of "Near Nature, Near Perfect."

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