Monthly Archives: February 2016

Spokane River advocates petition state to increase summertime water flow

Water is needed for river health, fish, recreational boaters, and scenic beauty

March 1, 2016

Spokane – On Monday, advocates for the Spokane River petitioned the Washington Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) to increase its flow rule for the popular and heavily-used Spokane River.  The Spokane River is a much beloved urban river that flows through the second largest city in Washington State, including spectacular waterfalls and a deep gorge. Conservationists are seeking a minimum summertime flow of 1,800 – 2800 cubic feet per second (CFS) to support fisheries and recreation, and protect higher flows for recreation when available.

“We are asking Washington state to ‘go with the flow,’ amend its inadequate flow rule, and protect the people’s river,” said John Roskelley, kayaker, author, and vice president of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Last summer the whole community lived through drought and witnessed the Spokane River reduced to a trickle amid boulder fields. The state has a trust responsibility for our river, and must do its job.”

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. The state agency ignored all public comments in support of protecting the Spokane River, and adopted unchanged its flow rule of 850 CFS – river flows that are low and jeopardize the Spokane River and public uses.

Petitioners have retained Dr. Doug Whittaker and Dr. Bo Shelby, who are experts in recreation and aesthetic flows from Confluence Research and Consulting, to evaluate appropriate flows. Drs. Shelby and Whittaker participated in establishing aesthetic flows for Spokane Falls, and are the foremost national experts on flows. They conclude 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. Read their full report here.

“Spokane River fisheries need cold, abundant water,” said Roskelley. “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 at 850 CFS below the Monroe Street Dam in the summer — is inadequate to protect and restore a healthy redband trout population, and that the scientific study prepared in support of the rate was flawed. Conservationists point out that the Department of Ecology could have accommodated the needs of both river recreationists and fish without sacrificing fish.

“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.”

Petitioners point out that Ecology has a duty under state law and the public trust doctrine to amend the rule to adopt flows that are fully protective of all public instream values, including fish and wildlife, recreation, navigation, water quality, and scenic beauty. 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.

“Excluding rafters, kayakers, and canoeists in setting flows sets a dangerous precedent for Washington State’s rivers,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest stewardship director for American Whitewater “Our state’s river face many demands but ultimately we have a collective responsibility for the stewardship and protection of our state’s rivers, and Department of Ecology must protect the diversity of beneficial uses our rivers provide including recreation.”

In setting instream flows, the Department of Ecology failed to listen to boaters who use the Spokane River 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.

“The state needs to fulfill its trust and stewardship responsibilities to protect the Spokane River for present and future generations,” said Andrea Rodgers, attorney with Western Environmental Law Center. “Setting flow rates for the river that do not protect fish, sacrifice recreational boaters’ uses of the river, and cost Spokane businesses needed income is an abdication of the state’s legal duty.”

The Department of Ecology has 60 days to respond to the citizens’ petition. Petitioners are Sierra Club, CELP, and American Whitewater, and are represented by attorneys Andrea Rodgers (WELC) and Dan Von Seggern (CELP).

Links –

January/February Edition of Washington Water Watch is Out!

Check out the latest issue of Washington Water Watch!

This edition features water issues in the legislature, an update on Dungeness River litigation, and news about the WSU Water plan and Columbia River Treaty letter. Meet our new Development and Outreach Coordinator and learn about our upcoming events in Spokane and Idaho, our call for photos and stories and more.

CELP Joins 50 Organizations in Letter to Policymakers on Columbia River Treaty

Conservation, fishing and faith communities call for U.S and Canadian government collaboration as an essential step towards modernizing the Columbia River Treaty to protect the environmental values of this important trans-boundary river.

Fifty-one organizations and associations from the Northwest region of the United States and Canadian province of British Columbia sent a letter today to top policymakers on both sides of the border urging them to jointly develop and share critical information as an essential step to protecting and restoring the Columbia River and its watershed in advance of negotiations to modernize the 52-year old U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty.

Signers of this letter include leaders from conservation, commercial and recreational fishing, and faith communities. They represent millions of people in both countries. The letter is addressed to Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion; United States Secretary of State John Kerry; and British Columbia’s Premier Christy Clark.

A copy of the letter can be downloaded here:
“Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty to meet the challenges of the 21st Century must focus on protecting and restoring the health of this important river and its watershed,” said Martin Carver of Nelson, British Columbia. Mr. Carver is among the non-governmental leaders in Canada working with those in the United States to broaden the Treaty’s current scope to include a new purpose that prioritizes the protection and restoration of the Columbia River.

The scope of the original Treaty of 1964 was limited to just two purposes: coordinated power production and flood management. The impending negotiations provide an opportunity to elevate the ecological needs of the river and address the mounting impacts of climate change.

“The organizations signing this letter represent millions of people who understand that the health of the Columbia River and the interests of communities in both nations will be best served by Treaty negotiations based on collaboration rather than competition,” stated Joseph Bogaard, executive director of the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition. “Though the Columbia River might span two countries, it is one river within its own watershed. Our two nations need to work together to manage and protect it as a single system.”

The letter states that the greatest ecological benefit will be achieved “if all stakeholders can access and use a common analytic base. The modeling process should be transparent and informed by our combined best available science.”

The coordinated development and sharing of information between the two countries has occurred before. The U.S. and Canada created an international board prior to the original Treaty negotiations to produce common technical analyses and evaluations for both nations. The letter urges policymakers in both countries to “examine this precedent for a common analytic base, and [to] update and expand it with modern tools, collaboration, and transparency.”

“The health of the Columbia River’s ecosystem was compromised from overdevelopment in the last century and now climate change in this one,” said Greg Haller, conservation director for Pacific Rivers. “A modernized Treaty must protect and restore the health of the river, its fish and wildlife and help ensure that its communities are more resilient to the intensifying effects of climate change.”

The letter cites the restoration of wetlands and floodplains, minimizing the impact of dam operations on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and the reintroduction of salmon into Canada as examples of what’s needed to improve the ecology of the river. “The Canadian portion of the river was heavily impacted by the construction of dams pursuant to the 1964 Treaty” said Bob Peart, executive director of the Sierra Club of BC. “Treaty modernization offers the best chance for restoring some of the ecological values and environmental services that were lost when the dams were built and that continue to be impacted on a daily basis. The health of the river will benefit if both nations work together towards mutual environmental goals.”

The 2,000 km long Columbia River originates in the Canadian province of British Columbia before flowing south into Washington State. It has been heavily dammed primarily for power, water storage and flood management. The Treaty was first established by the United States and Canada in 1964 to coordinate power production and flood management on the Columbia River. Important provisions of the Treaty are set to expire in 2024 and a window to update or modernize the Treaty opened in September 2014. Over the past 5 years in anticipation of 2024, both nations have begun preparing for negotiations.

Religious leader to be honored for advancing ethics for Columbia River

Bishop William Skylstad led The Columbia River Pastoral Letter team, which set forth an ethics foundation for dialogue on Columbia River concerns

The Letter would “…serve as a catalyst for further discussion toward the resolution of the complex issues of the Columbia River Watershed” in order… “to effect a spiritual, social and ecological transformation of the watershed.”  – The Columbia River Pastoral Letter

Pastoral LetterWhen: Friday evening, March 4, 2016, 6:30 – 9:30 p.m.

Where: Spokane, Patsy Clark Mansion 2208 West 2nd Ave.

Who: Bishop William Skylstad and members of the Steering Committee for The Columbia River Pastoral Letter

Contacts & RSVP:   John Osborn 509.939-1290; Tom Soeldner 509.270-6995

Tickets: $35 per person

Timeliness and relevance: After over eight years of review and discussion, the United States and Canada are moving closer to renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty.   This year also marks the 15th anniversary of the publication of The Columbia River Pastoral Letter that sought to “serve as a catalyst for further discussion toward the resolution of the complex issues of the Columbia River Watershed.”

The Columbia River Pastoral Letter is a unique international document signed by the Catholic Bishops of the international watershed, which uses environmental criteria rather than political boundaries to define its scope. Published in 2001, the Pastoral Letter was based on Catholic teaching of caring for God’s creation and involved a series of basin-wide listening sessions conducted by a steering committee chaired by Bishop William Skylstad.

The pastoral letter was chosen as a foundation for the ongoing conference series “One River, Ethics Matter” in the Columbia Basin. The conference series, modeled after South Africa’s “Truth & Reconciliation Process” on the impacts of apartheid, focuses on the wrenching impacts of the dam-building era on Columbia Basin tribes and First Nations, and the river. Using the pastoral letter, these conferences encourage a regional dialogue in the United States and Canada about modernizing the Columbia River Treaty based on ethical principles of stewardship and justice. Conferences were held at Gonzaga University in Spokane (2014), and the University of Portland (2015). The next conference will be held March 14 at Boise State University.

Pope Francis’s Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, and the Columbia River Pastoral Letter provide powerful tools for encouraging respectful dialogue and improving the quality of ethical decision about the global environment in a time of climate change.

About this honoring event:  “Winter Waters” is held annually in Spokane to celebrate work to restore the Upper Columbia River and honor people who have made a significant contribution to protecting water for the common good. The event is jointly hosted by Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, with the awards presented by Sierra Club.

Event Sponsors:  Upper Columbia United Tribes  *  Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  *  Catholic Diocese of Spokane  *  Tom Soeldner & Linda Finney  *  John & Joyce Rosekelley  *  Chris & Michelle Kopczynski  *  Jeff Lambert  *  Burl O. Gray (in memorium)  *  Eymann Allison Hunter Jones PS  *  Smith & Lowney, PLLC  *  John & Rachael Osborn


WSU water plan falls short in many ways

WSU Water Plan:  Friday is deadline for public comment

Email comments to:
WSU release on topic:


Washington State University’s plan for protecting its Pullman campus water supply is too optimistic about the potential for storing spring runoff as a supplement to its declining groundwater supply, conservationists say. Friday is the final day for public comment on the university’s draft water plan, which the state Department of Health requires it to write.

Conservationists have concerns about the draft WSU Water Plan that include:

  • Too much reliance on the possibility of storing spring runoff from the Palouse River underground. A suitable underground place to store the water has yet to be found, and the method has not worked well for other communities in Washington.
  • Lack of water meters on 57% of campus buildings and landscaping. WSU is behind in meeting the state requirement to track how much water is used, and monitor for leaks. WSU has failed in the 13 years since the Municipal Water Law was enacted to meter all of its service connections.
  • Lack of a solid water conservation messaging plan, so that students, faculty and the greater community can be part of the solution.
  • Continued deference to Palouse Ridge Golf Club. The university course, operated by Course Co. Inc., uses 10 percent of water on campus. The water for the golf course, as well as the electrical energy to pump it, is provided to the corporation free of charge. Nowhere else can a private entrepreneur get 48 million gallons of water a year for free to run its business.
  • The university has failed in its attempts to get state funding for a system that would use reclaimed water for golf course irrigation and other campus landscaping. WSU could easily fund this project were it serious about conserving our groundwater.

Conservationists also questioned a report, cited in WSU’s water plan, that contends that the aquifer is being recharged nearly as quickly as the water is pumped. According to the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee, the aquifer is dropping nearly seven-tenths of a foot each year.

“While WSU Pullman is using less water than it has in the past, it is falling short in many ways,” said John Osborn with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “WSU shows little regard for its neighbors, Pullman and Moscow, Idaho as well as nearby rural residents, as the Grande Ronde Aquifer on which all rely, continues to drop. Science can’t say when the water will drop too low to pump, but they know that day of reckoning will come.”

“Relying on recharging the pure 10,000 year-old water in the aquifer with contaminated surface water is a questionable strategy,” said Al Poplawsky, chair of Sierra Club’s Palouse Group. “Conservation of our pristine, irreplaceable water should come first.”

The Grande Ronde aquifer, the sole source of water for many in the Palouse Basin, is very high quality ice-age water. When Pullman was being developed, there were artesian wells. Now, the water is far underground. “This is not a resource to be squandered,” noted David Hall. “WSU has conserved water in some areas, but it should be more aggressive with continued conservation and education goals.”

Nearby resident Scotty Cornelius also has a well in the Grande Ronde Aquifer, and his water level is dropping at the same rate. “Unlike WSU, I can’t afford to drill 800 feet to water. WSU frequently describes itself as oriented toward sustainability initiatives, but our declining aquifer is the biggest sustainability issue on the Palouse and WSU is squandering this precious resource.”