City Reassesses Plan for Avoiding River Pollution

By Steve Jackson

Spokane city officials are rethinking their strategy for keeping pollutants out of the Spokane River. The city is already mandated to take care of raw sewage that winds up in the waterway during major storm events.
When a major rainstorm hits Spokane, one unfortunate result is that raw sewage can often be dumped directly into the Spokane River. That’s because in many parts of the city, the stormwater mixes with the sewer lines in what is called a Combined Sewer Overflow, or CSO. The city has a mandate to limit such overflows to one event per overflow pipe in a year by the year 2017. There are over two dozen such pipes.

The effort to get that under control by building massive CSO tanks to hold all that water is expected to cost the city as much as half a billion dollars.
Now, city leaders are re-examining the strategy in way that will reduce even more of the pollutants that wind up in the river. Mayor David Condon says a good portion of the city’s stormwater, particularly on the North Side, does not mix with the sewer lines, but even so, that stormwater can still carry pollutants into the river:
Condon: “The issue is we look at the pipes that go into the river, some of the pollutants that cause a bigger issue environmentally come from our stormwater not from our sewer, and the reality is stormwater is constantly going into our river, so it’s not just a major rain event , so it happens periodically.”

Mayor Condon says the pollutants carried by stormwater include PCB’s and some heavy metals.

The mayor and city council are now exploring the idea of tackling both the stormwater issue and CSO overflow together.

It’s unsure if such a strategy will delay the 2017 deadline for meeting the CSO mandate, but Grant Fifer of the Washington Department of Ecology, which oversees the requirement, is encouraged that the city is trying to do the right thing, and make the river even cleaner:

Fifer: “If everyone looks in the context of what the outcomes are , by way of reducing pollution in the river, the last dotting of the I’s and crossing the T's with the last smallest CSO outfall, it’s probably a choice that would be acceptable.”

City councilwoman Amber Waldref says it’s hoped the cost to the city would be the same.
Waldref: “This is the theory that we want spend the same amount of money that we were going to spend, between 300 and 500 million dollars but we want to clean up more, and it may take a couple of years more , but it’s up to EPA and ecology of we want to put together those other solutions.”
Mayor Condon says the cost will have to be born by the city’s ratepayers, but speaking with Utilities communication manager Marlene Feist, they believe future rate increases will not be excessive.
Condon: “We think we can hold rates to inflationary increases, like high twos, three percent a year.”
The Integrated Clean Water plan has identified several projects that should have the most impact on a cleaner river. They include reducing overflows from the two largest combined sewer areas on the south hill, and reducing stormwater entering the river from what’s called the Cochran basin on the city’s north side.

Copyright 2013 Spokane Public Radio
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