Protecting Spokane River Summer Flows Goes to Court (WA)
Next step in process essential for river and Spokane community
Issue: When water is flowing in the Spokane River during hot summer months, should the
River’s water be protected for community recreational and aesthetic use and river fish and
wildlife -- or should it be available to be taken from the River by the State Dept of Ecology
through the granting of water rights?
State court: Thurston County Superior Court, Hon. James Dixon, Judge.
Where: Thurston County Courthouse, 2000 Lakeridge Drive, Olympia
When: Friday, June 9, 1:30 PM.
Spokane River issues before the court
The beloved Spokane River flows through the second largest city in Washington state, including
spectacular waterfalls and a deep gorge. In most summers, enough water flows in the River to
support fishing, river rafting, and other outdoor recreation. River advocates are asking the
Court to hold the Department of Ecology to its duty to protect fish and wildlife, scenic,
aesthetic and recreational values, and navigation, when establishing the minimum summer flows
allowable for the Spokane River.
Overwhelming public support . . . ignored
Nearly 2,000 comments, including boater surveys and aesthetic inventories, were submitted to the Department of Ecology during the public comment period on the draft rule. In setting instream flows, the Department of Ecology’s decision failed to take into account boaters who use the Spokane River, fishermen who pursue the river’s wild redband trout, and businesses that depend on Spokane River recreation. Ecology also failed to conduct a basic assessment of the scenic values of the Spokane River as it flows through the gorge and Riverside State Park – important to users of the Centennial Trail and others.
Overall the state agency ignored all public comments in support of protecting the Spokane River and adopted unchanged its flow rule of 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) – near-drought level river flows that will jeopardize the Spokane River and its public uses.
Need to protect recreational use of the Spokane River
River advocates retained Dr. Doug Whittaker and Dr. Bo Shelby, experts in recreation and aesthetic flows from Confluence Research and Consulting, to evaluate appropriate flows. Dr. Shelby and Dr. Whittaker participated in establishing aesthetic flows for Spokane Falls, and are the foremost national experts on flows. They concluded that the Department of Ecology’s adopted flows are inadequate to support most types of recreational boating on the river. Higher flows in the Spokane River, when available, should be protected.
Fish need water
Spokane River fisheries need cold, abundant water. The Department of Ecology erred in concluding that more water is bad for fish, thereby justifying its decision not to protect Spokane River flows. In response, petitioners submitted a report prepared by Prof. Allan Scholz, retired Eastern Washington University fisheries biologist and professor. (Prof. Scholz is author of a multivolume treatise on Eastern Washington fisheries, and is one of the foremost experts on Spokane River redband trout.)
Prof. Scholz determined that the state’s flow rule – setting the Spokane River flow rate below the Monroe Street Dam in the summer at 850 cfs – is inadequate to protect and restore a healthy redband trout population, and that the scientific study prepared in support of the rate was flawed. The Department of Ecology could have accommodated the needs of river recreationists and fish without sacrificing fish.
Protecting aesthetics in the city’s heart
"Our city owes its origins, its beauty, and a great deal of its past and present life to the Spokane River,” said Tom Soeldner, co-chair of Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group based in Spokane. “It would be a betrayal of the river and our identity if we did not maintain healthy and aesthetic river flows."
Flows not protected in the flow rule are flows lost to the river
The Department of Ecology has a duty under state law and the public trust doctrine to adopt flows that are fully protective of all public instream values, including fish and wildlife, recreation, navigation, water quality, and scenic beauty. Again, flows that are not protected are at risk to be diverted from the Spokane River for out-of-stream water uses, including Idaho pumpers, the city of Spokane, and the office of the Columbia River’s Spokane-Rathdrum ASR project.
Appellants are Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law & Policy and American Whitewater, and are represented by attorneys Dan Von Seggern (CELP) and Andrew Hawley (WELC).
Dan Von Seggern, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, (206) 829-8299, firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Hawley, Western Environmental Law Center, (206) 487-7250, email@example.com
John Roskelley, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, (509) 954-5653 firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas O’Keefe, American Whitewater, (425) 417-9012 email@example.com
Tom Soeldner, Sierra Club, Upper Columbia River Group, (509) 270-6995 firstname.lastname@example.org