SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Environmental groups are asking the state Department of Ecology to release more water into the Spokane River during summer months, when the popular waterway can slow to a trickle.
They seek a minimum summertime flow of 1,800 to 2,800 cubic feet per second to support fisheries and recreation, rather than the 850 cfs rate the agency recently adopted.
“Last summer the whole community lived through drought and witnessed the Spokane River reduced to a trickle amid boulder fields,” said John Roskelley, vice president of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy.
Officials for the Ecology Department just received the petition Tuesday and are reviewing it, agency spokeswoman Brook Beeler said.
Beeler noted that a decade of work went into establishing the flow rate for the river, and that the rate depended on weather, groundwater use and the operation of hydropower facilities on the river.
The Spokane River flows out of Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho and moves through Washington’s second-largest city, forming spectacular waterfalls and a deep gorge, before merging with the Columbia River.
The Ecology Department received nearly 2,000 replies during its public comment period on the new flow rule. But the environmental groups say the agency ignored them in retaining the flow of 850 cfs.
The environmental groups contend that Ecology’s adopted flows are inadequate to support most types of recreational boating on the river, and don’t do enough to protect fish.
“Spokane River fisheries need cold, abundant water,” Roskelley said. “The Department of Ecology erred in concluding that more water is bad for fish, thereby justifying its decision not to protect Spokane River flows.”
“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. “It would be a betrayal of the river and our identity if we did not maintain healthy and aesthetic river flows.”
The conservation groups contend the Ecology Department should adopt flows that protect all public values, including fish and wildlife, recreation, navigation, water quality, and scenic beauty.
“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.
The Department of Ecology has 60 days to respond to the petition.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.