Water Quality Standards: Why your River is Not Unlike a Pumpkin Pie.

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Water Quality Standards: Why your River is Not Unlike a Pumpkin Pie.

Photos courtesy of Pescado Lago Studios - Bridge Mayfield Photography (Instagram and Facebook)

Under the Clean Water Act, all of the waters of the United States have Water Quality Standards (WQS) to protect them from pollution.  These are standards that are designed as the amount of pollutant allowed in a water body.  The Water Quality Standard guarantees the health, the safety, and usability by people and wildlife.  These standards ensure that all of our waters are fishable and swimmable.  In some cases this also includes drinkable.  These WQS are the bedrock of river and water protection in our society.

 

Imagine a Water Quality Standard is like a recipe and a water body like a pumpkin pie (Sure!  Why not).  A pie that has just the right amount of salt is edible and great to eat after dinner.  But put too much salt in that same pie and not even my dog will eat it.  And if you don’t put enough sugar in the pie - it is ruined.  Similarly, in a river, the WQS (like a recipe) defines the point at which water (or fish) is considered polluted, unsafe or degraded by various pollutants.  If there is enough dissolved oxygen in the water, our fish are happy.  Not enough (below 8 milligrams per liter) and aquatic life begins to suffer.  To take the analogy further, some ingredients in a pie are natural, like sugar, salt or flour. In the correct amounts, they make the pie work for dessert.  In the wrong amounts, though, they are like a pollutant.  Chemical pollutants in our water, on the other hand, are analogous to additives or preservatives in our pie.

 

Natural substances like sediment, phosphorus or temperature are found in all rivers and nature at normal or background levels.  So while these are technically not a pollutant, they are unsafe for rivers if found abnormally high or low levels – above or below the WQS. 

There are standards for nutrients like phosphorus and ammonia and there are standards for serious synthetic, chemical pollutants that stick around in the food web for years: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury, to name two.   Each of these pollutants harm aquatic life and the food web in their own way.  Nutrients change ecosystems by changing oxygen levels and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) like PCBs can cause cancer or reproductive harm and they bio-accumulate in the food chain.  In fact, these PCBs do not like water, but love to stick to animal fat.  So the more you eat, the more PCBs get banked in the fatty tissues like the brain.  If you are at the top of the food chain, you are accumulating many of these from eating fish that are lower on the food chain.  Remember the sad story of the Resident Pod of Orcas in the Puget Sound.  The toxins accumulating in the flesh of the Orca and other animals like fish have reached crisis proportions and are contributing to their debilitated and weak physical condition. LINK

In the Spokane River, the EPA over ruled a Washington rule which was much more lax. We now have a Water Quality Standard for PCBs of just 7 picograms per Liter which is 7 parts per quadrillion in the water column.  That means anything over 7PG/L is considered polluted.  The WQS is so darn tight because these PCBs accumulate in fish.  It has been determined that to protect the person who eats 175 grams of fish a day, the water can have no more than 7 pg/L.   Fish advisories are still in effect for much of our river due to PCB pollution.  LINK.

Here at Spokane Riverkeeper, we understand that this this will be very tough standard to meet.  But this is the law of the land and it is our responsibility to make sure all dischargers are accountable in getting our river clean.  So clean that we can eat the fish without looking over our shoulders at fish advisory warnings.  We owe this to the entire public, we owe this to the Spokane Tribe and Colville Tribes whose culture revolves around eating fish, to pregnant woman and children who are developmentally vulnerable, and we owe this to the river and the life it supports. 

Sediment from Hangman Creek pollutes the Spokane River, burying fish nests and macroinvertebrates.

Sediment from Hangman Creek pollutes the Spokane River, burying fish nests and macroinvertebrates.

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Fall 2018 eNews

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Fall 2018 eNews

Check out the Spokane Riverkeeper 2018 Fall eNews. Our newsletter contains all the information you need to know to keep up to date about our work protecting the Spokane River.

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Wastewater Microplastics Pollution in the Surface Water of the Spokane River

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Wastewater Microplastics Pollution in the Surface Water of the Spokane River

Anthropogenic microplastic pollution is a growing threat in freshwater ecosystems around the world. This has been a long-known threat in the Spokane river watershed with numerous responses undertaken to combat the problems of pollutants. One of the targets has been wastewater effluent, a known point source for pollutants. There is a new emerging anthropogenic pollutant, microplastic, which is being discovered to be pervasive throughout the globe. This study aimed to find if the Spokane Wastewater Treatment plant (WWTP) was a point source for microplastic pollution.

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2018 Spokane River Water Temperature

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2018 Spokane River Water Temperature

The Spokane Riverkeeper monitored water temperature in the Spokane River in summer of 2018. Water temperature in the Spokane River showed the usual pattern of high temperatures approaching a daily maxima of 80 degrees or more in the losing reach at Barker Road and Harvard Road.  The gaining reach continued to show lower water temperatures, under that state standard for interior redband trout of 64.4 F.  Water temperature in the gaining reach continued to show decreased water temperature with decreasing flows in the Spokane River.  Water temperatures in the Spokane River’s losing reach appear to be rising when compared to 2001 and 2002 data. 

 

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Effect of Sediment Pollution from Hangman Creek on the Spokane River

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Effect of Sediment Pollution from Hangman Creek on the Spokane River

The Spokane Riverkeeper partnered with Spokane Falls Trout Unlimited and other citizen scientists to monitor the effect of sediment discharging from Hangman Creek on the water clarity in the Spokane River. Monitoring throughout the winter and spring showed reduced water clarity in the Spokane River due to Hangman Creek 30-80% of the time.

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2017 Water Quality Report Card

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2017 Water Quality Report Card

The results are in for 2017 and once again we find that Hangman Creek harbors conditions that fail to support our native redband trout, much less the salmon that once swam in it's waters. 

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2017 Phosphorous Study

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2017 Phosphorous Study

We partnered with EWU to look at phosphorous loads in Hangman Creek during the spring of 2017.  The amount of phosphorous in our waters is extremely important to primary production in our surface waters, causing algal blooms and (indirectly) low dissolved oxygen in Lake Spokane.  Phosphorous is locally regulated in surface water discharges due to it's effect on Lake Spokane,

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Calling the Salmon Home

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Calling the Salmon Home

The Spokane Riverkeeper attended the canoe landing and Salmon Ceremony on the Columbia River at Kettle Falls. Before the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, Kettle Falls served as a sacred gathering spot for tribes and First Nations peoples during salmon runs. The Ceremony of Tears in 1940 was the last Salmon Ceremony held before Kettle Falls was permanently inundated with water and the salmon runs blocked - until 2016 when these canoes were built by tribes of the Upper Columbia River Basin and the journey to Kettle Falls and tradition of the Salmon Ceremony revived.

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Join us!  Free tour of Bunker Hill Superfund Site, June 8

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Join us! Free tour of Bunker Hill Superfund Site, June 8

The Spokane Riverkeeper, along with staff from the EPA and the Idaho Panhandle Health Department will lead a free tour of the Bunker Hill Superfund Site on June 8th. Although downtown Spokane is many miles away from the Bunker Hill Mine, mining operations that began in the 1880s continue to impact the health of downstream waterways from the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River all the way to the Spokane River.

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Spring 2018 Newsletter

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Spring 2018 Newsletter

Paul Lindholdt's newest book, The Spokane River pulls together a diverse array of experts and enthusiasts to expound about the River, including past and present Spokane Riverkeepers, Rick Eichstaedt, Bart Mihailovich, and Jerry White, Jr.

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Celebrating Hangman Creek

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Celebrating Hangman Creek

Canoes are tippy.  After a brief safety talk and paddle demo (provided by yours truly), Uncle Jerry White (your Riverkeeper) treated us to a devotional sermon, and we were off.

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Do Fish Hear?

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Do Fish Hear?

What does polluted stormwater have to do with fish hearing?  Until today, I’d say absolutely nothing.  But in the last weeks, new science points to polluted stormwater runoff as the culprit for damaging the ability for salmon and other fish to hear.

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Spokane Riverkeeper Settles Lawsuit over Hangman Creek Cleanup

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Spokane Riverkeeper Settles Lawsuit over Hangman Creek Cleanup

Spokane Riverkeeper Settles Law Suit with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology to Protect Water Quality in Hangman Creek

The Spokane Riverkeeper has settled a federal lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) approval of Washington Department of Ecology’s plan to clean up pollution in Hangman Creek. 

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Waterkeepers from the Pacific Region gather in Hood River, Oregon

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Waterkeepers from the Pacific Region gather in Hood River, Oregon

From Colorado River tributaries to Humboldt Bay, and from Prince William Sound to the Snake River – over 30 Waterkeepers from the west just gathered near Hood River, Oregon for three days of networking, brainstorming, and inspiration.  Some were the Waterkeeper stalwarts:  Columbia Riverkeeper and Puget Soundkeeper.  Others were just starting out, working to become licensed Waterkeepers in new watersheds, such as in Chico Creek, Boulder Creek and the outer Columbia River estuary.  All in all there are 48 Waterkeepers in our Pacific Region, including brand new groups in Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming.  The best thing about these gatherings is they offer an opportunity to learn (of course) but even better – it’s a chance to bond with our Waterkeeper tribe.

The first order of business was to get updates from all the Keepers.  We heard about a new legal action to lower water temperatures in the Snake River.  The long and impressive list includes efforts to reduce the size of oil and gas leases in the Colorado River watershed, 4 new clean water act legal cases in Humboldt Bay, efforts to stop coal mining in Prince William Sound, successful changes in the cleanup plan for the Portland Harbor on the Tualatin River, amazing projects in Hawaii to restore native oysters, and an action forcing the decommissioning of military vessels in San Francisco Bay.  There’s lots more…this is just the short list!

We were treated to a couple of great presentations and discussions lead by Eric de Place, of Sightline Institute.  His topic was Strategic Communications in an Era of Fake News.  In these times of serious decline of traditional journalism, it was a rare treat to be able to sit down and talk with Eric, a researcher, writer, speaker, and policy analyst who spearheads the Institute’s work on energy policy. Known as a leading expert on coal and oil export plans in the Pacific Northwest, it was a treat to hear about our successes in defeating coal and oil terminals, and the challenges that await us with fracked gas transport and proposed methanol plants

Amidst all this was an urgent call from our very own Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper!  Our friends in Sandpoint, Idaho are fighting a second rail bridge that is proposed to carry even more fossil fuels and hazardous materials along and over Lake Pend Oreille.  This will result in increased dangerous trail traffic through Spokane and along our river.  Please stay informed and write a comment letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about this.  Stay in touch with us for updates.

The last session of note was a discussion about agricultural pollution.  We went around the room and almost everyone had examples of how pollution from large farms impacts our watersheds.  Of course we need our farms and value the hard work our farmers do.  But almost all of us shared serious problems in our streams, rivers and lakes due to low dissolved oxygen, too much sediment, toxic algae, excessive nutrients, pesticides, and other issues that seriously degrade fish habitat.  In many cases, these problems stem from poor agricultural practices. In the Spokane River watershed, we recognize that good agricultural practices are essential to clean water.  So we highlighted our concerns about sediment pollution, high nitrates, damage to headwater streams, and excessive erosion in Hangman Creek that combine to result in  lethal conditions for our struggling native trout in many areas.  We support and celebrate our local farmers who are taking the extra steps to protect water quality by respecting stream buffers, preventing erosion, and switching to no-till agriculture.

A lot more topics were discussed, fun was had, new connections made, and inspiration gained.  Our next big gathering is the International Waterkeeper Conference in June, in Buffalo, New York.  Stay tuned!

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Temperature Monitoring in Hangman Creek, Summer 2017

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Temperature Monitoring in Hangman Creek, Summer 2017

The Spokane Riverkeeper conducted a water temperature study in the Hangman Creek watershed in summer of 2017.  Our results show that mainstem water temperatures are much too high to support redband trout.  However, results were more promising in the tributaries.  

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Toxics in the Spokane River – why we care

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Toxics in the Spokane River – why we care

While it may not be apparent, the river that we love, the river that’s vital to our health and economy – needs your help.  As your Riverkeepers, it is our job and our privilege to protect and defend your river so that it’s clean and safe for all to enjoy. Here’s a little background on why the river is polluted, why this pollution matters, and some easy steps that we want you to take to keep toxic pollution out of the Spokane River.

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