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Urban Waters Initiative photo identifier

Urban Waters Initiative

Spokane River

The Spokane River at dusk
The Spokane River begins in Idaho, at the Lake Coeur d’Alene outlet, and flows 112 miles through Post Falls and Spokane to Long Lake and on to Lake Roosevelt and the Columbia River.

Over the years this working river has seen improvements in its health. But there are still many sources of pollution that continue to threaten the river. Ecology is dedicated to working with stakeholders on this complicated task of cleaning up the river and keeping it clean.

The Spokane River Urban Waters Team is a partnership between Ecology and The Spokane Regional Health District. The team works closely with The Spokane River Forum and Spokane Aquifer Joint Board to develop informational materials for local businesses and the public.

Together, we developed a master inspection checklist to guide our visits to business. We work with businesses to identify and prevent pollution from reaching the river through sediment, stormdrains, and combined sewers. In particular, the team is looking for pollutants that contain lead and other heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls(PCB’s), PBDE’s(flame retardants), dioxins and furans.

During visits to businesses specialists from the Urban Waters Team pay particular attention to the following practices:

  • Industrial processes that generate wastewater
  • Pretreatment of wastewater
  • Waste disposal
  • Activities that are at high risk for generating pollution
  • Spill prevention
  • Use of stormwater structures
  • Maintenance practices that take place outside
  • Management of washwater
  • Outdoor storage of products and waste

A clean river is good for the community and good for business. Working together as a community, we will ensure that future generations have enough clean water to sustain a healthy lifestyle and economy.

Persistent Toxic Pollution found in the Spokane River

Heavy Metals. In May 1999, Ecology began the process of trying to stop further pollution of the Spokane River. The process began with testing for metals that got into the river because of the historical mining practices in the Coeur d’Alene Basin in Idaho, which is now a designated federal Superfund site. Testing was followed with cleanup of beaches along the river where the metals had settled out in amounts high enough to threaten human health. While several areas have already been cleaned up, more cleanups are planned. We also know that past mining is not the only source of polluting metals. Water that runs off tires, for example, contains the metal zinc. When this water makes its way to the river, it also adds to the river’s contamination.

PCBs. Testing found high amounts of PCBs. PCBs get into the Spokane River through industrial discharges, wastewater treatment plants, and storm water. PCBs deposited in sediments from historical discharges also find their way into fish. The largest concentrations of PCBs in fish or sediment have been found between the state line and Upriver Dam. While we don’t know where all the PCBs come from along this reach of the river, we do know that one important historic source is the Kaiser Trentwood plant in the Spokane Valley. Before 1994, the Spokane Industrial Park was also a likely source. Since 1995, Kaiser has taken major steps to reduce PCB concentrations in its wastewater. Ecology also oversaw the cleanup of the General Electric site in 1999, which was contaminated with PCBs and had an impact on the aquifer near the river.

PBDEs. Testing also found unusually high amounts of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) in the Spokane River. PBDEs are chemical additives used in everyday household products to reduce death and injury from fires. Studies indicate that PBDEs are building up in people’s bodies, in animals and in the environment. We don’t currently know just where the PBDEs in the river are coming from—identifying those sources is a high priority so that we can begin to control them.

Dioxins and furans. Dioxins and furans are the shortened names for a group of harmful substances that are created when other chemicals or products are made. Some of the chemicals that, when manufactured or processed, produce dioxins and furans include herbicides and products in the pulp and paper industry. They can also be produced when such materials as municipal waste, sludge, medical waste, and wood are burned. Nationwide, dioxins and furans have been found in the air, soil, sediment and food. As with the PBDEs, we do not yet know the most important sources of dioxins and furans to the river.

Related Web links

Ecology Spokane River Basin

Spokane River Contacts

Department of Ecology

  • Ted Hamlin, Urban Water Inspector, Water Quality Program
    Phone: 509-329-3573
    E-mail: tham461@ecy.wa.gov
  • Brendan Dowling, Hydrologist, Toxic Cleanup Program
    Phone: 509-329-3611
    E-mail: bdow461@ecy.wa.gov

Spokane Regional Health District

Spokane Regional Solid Waste System

  • Hazardous Waste Coordinator: 509-625-7898
    Recycling hotline: 509-625-6800

Spokane Aquifer Joint Board

Spokane River Forum

Envirostars Program