Monthly Archives: July 2021

Washington Water Watch: July Edition

Dear Friends,

As the summer progresses, we at CELP are keeping an eye on our water resources. Our rivers and drinking aquifers are in trouble.

Parts of Washington have been experiencing drought since this spring. Now a drought emergency has been declared for the entire state, with the exception of Seattle, Everett, and Tacoma metropolitan areas. Streamflows are low and many rivers’ water temperatures are putting fish at risk. Salmon in the Columbia River are being threatened by high water temperatures. The Spokane River dropped way below its average flow for this time of year and below its legally protected summer instream flow level. Use your water wisely and help reduce water consumption to keep water in the aquifer and river.

Drought conditions have also made this fire season more difficult and intense. A state of emergency was declared due to high fire risk the beginning of July and fires have spread across the Pacific Northwest. Warmer and drier weather is predicted through the end of September. Our waters need our help. Support CELP at to help us protect, preserve, and restore our waters.

We are happy to be back in the office on a hybrid model working with our new team in person. We are enjoying working together. Our new Staff Attorney, Maggie hit the ground running with the Spokane River PCB case. Hillary, our Outreach Coordinator has also been off to a great start participating in groups and coalitions on water issues across the state.

CELP was saddened to learn Jan Sharar passed away. Jan was a strong water advocate and will be greatly missed. Our sincerest condolences go out to her loved ones.

In this issue you will find an introduction of CELP’s new Staff Attorney, an update on the Spokane River PCB case, information on the emergency drought and CELP’s statement, water conservation tips, a story on drought in the West, a tribute to Jan Sharar, water and fish news, Celebrate Water information and tickets, and a save the date for the 8th One River, Ethics Matter conference.

Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

Read the full newsletter:

News Release: Federal judge asked to compel cleanup of cancer-causing chemicals in the Spokane river

News release

For immediate release

Federal judge asked to compel cleanup of cancer-causing chemicals in Spokane River

Lawsuit filed 10 years ago has not moved government to protect river, community

Link:  Motion for Summary Judgment

Spokane – River advocates are asking a federal judge to rule on their 10-year-old lawsuit to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a cleanup plan for one of Washington State’s most polluted rivers. The Spokane River is heavily polluted with PCBs. The lawsuit began in July 2011, when river advocates notified EPA of their intent to sue on behalf of the river unless EPA complied with federal law. In 2015, a federal judge ordered EPA to come up with a schedule for a cleanup plan. EPA has yet to write a cleanup plan for the Spokane River.

“The days of using the Spokane River as a chemical dump are over,” said Tom Soeldner of the Spokane River Team. “Year after year we waited patiently. Now we are asking the federal courts to stop polluters from flushing PCBs into the River.”

The federal Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, requires that polluted waters be fishable and swimmable. Although the State of Washington and EPA have been aware of PCB pollution for decades, the Spokane River still does not have a cleanup plan for PCBs.  Washington State Department of Ecology (WADOE) has continued to issue permits to polluters allowing them to dump PCBs into the Spokane River with no controls.

Washington Department of Health has issued a health advisory on PCB-contaminated fish in the Spokane River that has been in place for many years. PCBs have adverse effects on animals and human populations, including causing cancers in humans.  PCBs move up the food chain. Low concentrations in river water result in high concentrations in fish and other river life.

“‘Patience’ is the one word describing river advocates,” said John Allison, a Spokane River Team member. “Year after year we’ve waited. We’ve run out of hope and time with the agencies responsible for the Spokane River. We are returning to the courtroom to ask the federal judge to rule for the river and life.” 

“We need a clean, flowing water for the return of salmon,” said Kathy Dixon of the Spokane River Team. “Salmon along with our children and the river’s life are compelling reasons to comply with federal law and move forward with a cleanup plan.”


PCBs are a group of industrial compounds associated with liver dysfunction and cancer, and are now banned in the United States. Washington State has formally recognized that the Spokane River is impaired for PCBs since 1996. When a river is listed for PCBs, the federal Clean Water Act requires binding cleanup targets before issuing any permits that would add more PCBs to the Spokane River.  Such a cleanup plan has never been completed for the Spokane River, but state and federal agencies have issued pollution permits anyway, failing to include numeric limits.

In 2011, the WADOE abandoned efforts to adopt a PCB cleanup plan, largely because of political opposition by Spokane River polluters, who would be required to reduce PCBs in effluent by up to 99% to meet both Washington State and Spokane Tribe water quality standards. These polluters include Inland Empire Paper, Kaiser, and the Liberty Lake, Spokane County, and City of Spokane sewage treatment plants. Instead, Ecology formed the Spokane River Toxics Task Force and required the polluters to participate, but also gave them control over the goals and activities of the Task Force.

Subsequently EPA issued discharge permits to three Idaho dischargers – the City of Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Hayden Water & Sewer District – also not requiring PCB limits and also requiring participation in the Toxics Task Force.

Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) filed a citizen lawsuit against EPA in 2011. The Spokane Tribe of Indians intervened in support of the citizen lawsuit, and the Department of Ecology, Spokane County and Kaiser intervened to defend EPA. U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ruled in March 2015 that EPA’s failure to require a clean-up plan was an abuse of discretion and ordered EPA to submit a plan to the Court by July 2015.

EPA, Ecology, Kaiser, and Spokane County appealed the ruling, but EPA withdrew its appeal and submitted a document (which fails to require a cleanup plan) to the District Court. In April 2016 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Ecology-County-Kaiser appeal in a one-paragraph decision. This meant that the legal challenge to the EPA’s “non-cleanup plan” document could move forward in District Court. 

During the past five years, Spokane River advocates have waited patiently for WADOE and EPA to complete a cleanup plan and begin its implementation.  In the absence of a cleanup plan, Sierra Club and CELP are now asking the federal judge to compel a cleanup plan under the law.

Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Marc Zemel of Smith & Lowney, a Seattle firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation. The Spokane Tribe of Indians is represented by Ted Knight.


    Tom Soeldner, Spokane River Team 

    John Allison, Spokane River Team.