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Spokane River places sixth on group's endangered list

American Rivers cites water withdrawal and sewage waste, and for the Snake, four dams blocking salmon



SPOKANE -- Thirty years ago, this Eastern Washington city hosted a World's Fair -- focused on environmental protection -- along the banks of the Spokane River.

Now the Spokane River has been identified as the sixth-most endangered river in the country, according to an annual report from an environmental group. The report by American Rivers identified the Snake River as the third-most endangered in the nation.

The report was set for release today.

The Spokane River faces a future of more pollution concentrated in less water as it moves through the metropolitan area, the report said.

"The Lilac City won't be smelling so sweet if officials let sewage plants dump more waste into the Spokane River," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.

Governments should stop approving more water withdrawal applications for the Spokane River and should reject a proposed sixth sewage treatment plant, the report said.

The river also is threatened by old mining wastes that flow out of Lake Coeur d'Alene, the river's source, the report said.

The Snake River, which begins in Wyoming, flows through Idaho and joins the Columbia River near the Tri-Cities of Washington. It is on the list because four dams on the Washington portion of the river are killing runs of salmon and steelhead, the group said.

The Colorado River, confronting mounting problems with radioactive, toxic and human waste, topped this year's list of 10 rivers.

The American Rivers report blamed the problems of the rivers on the White House and Congress for cutting clean water law enforcement and spending on pollution prevention. The report highlights the rivers facing the most uncertain futures, and is not a list of those with the worst chronic problems.

The banks of the Spokane River where it flowed through Spokane were once an eyesore dominated by railroad yards and industrial sites. But the area was cleaned up to become the home for Expo '74, and then transformed into Riverfront Park, the city's social core.

Now development pressure from Lake Coeur d'Alene through the Spokane metropolitan area has the river in trouble again, conservationists contend. Too much water is removed from the river for electrical generation and other uses, while too much oxygen-depleting waste is put into the water.

That causes some stretches of the river -- including the landmark Spokane Falls -- to run dry most summers.

Jani Gilbert, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Ecology in Spokane, said the river cannot be considered overtaxed because no one knows what its capacity is. Studies are only now getting started, she said. The agency is also creating plans to deal with PCBs and other pollutants in the river.

"We know that the Spokane River is sick in many respects," Gilbert said.

American Rivers :: Restore. Protect. Enjoy.


Most Endangered Rivers of 2004 announced
April 14, 2004

Eric Eckl, Betsy Otto, (202) 347-7550
Melissa Samet, (415) 482-8150

(Washington, D.C.) America's rivers and streams are becoming more polluted -- and the White House and Congress are making a bad situation worse by cutting clean water law enforcement and spending on pollution prevention, charged American Rivers with the release of its 2004 Most Endangered Rivers report. The Colorado River, confronting mounting problems with radioactive, toxic, and human waste, topped this year's list of ten rivers. It supplies the water for 25 million people, including residents of Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

"The rivers on this year's list face particularly dire futures but they are not unique," said Rebecca R. Wodder, president of American Rivers. "They are poster children for a nationwide trend towards more polluted waters and less effort to clean them up."

America's waters became progressively cleaner for decades after Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, but recent monitoring data indicates that this trend has reversed itself. For example, sampling at estuaries across the country in 2000 found that more than half were "impaired" - up from 37% in 1994. Estuaries are good indicators of broad water quality trends as they receive pollution from every stream and river in their watershed. American Rivers predicts that actions taken by the Bush administration will accelerate this decline.

In particular, the administration has reduced the number of Clean Water Act enforcement actions, levied fewer and smaller fines on lawbreakers, and created new loopholes on behalf of polluting industries. The administration failed to disclose the results of an internal audit, which found that one-quarter of all major industrial and wastewater treatment facilities are in "significant violation" of the law at any one time.

"The president's clean water record can be summed up in three words: soft on crime," Wodder said.

The White House and Congress have also shortchanged communities seeking a helping hand to clean up their waters. The federal government's share of sewage treatment construction costs has fallen from 20% to just 5% - and the White House seeks to cut federal funding by another third in 2005. Congress has effectively shifted the burden of cleaning up contaminated river bottoms and other toxic sites from polluters to the public, and the number of sites cleaned up each year has dropped by almost half. Congress has yet to reauthorize the trust fund that pays for efforts to treat polluted water draining out of thousands of abandoned coalmines in the Ohio River watershed.

"Letting our kids splash in the creek, eating a fish we caught on a camping trip, and drinking water from the tap without worry are things that Americans should be able to take for granted," Wodder said. "Washington is misspending our money if our children won't enjoy these things, too."

About America's Most Endangered Rivers
Each year, American Rivers solicits nominations from thousands of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs, local governments, and taxpayer watchdogs for the America's Most Endangered Rivers report. The report highlights the rivers facing the most uncertain futures. It is not a list of the rivers with the worst chronic problems. The report presents alternatives to proposal that would damage rivers, identifies those who will make the crucial decisions, and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.

America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2004

#1 Colorado River (CO, UT, AZ, NV, CA)
Contact: Eric Eckl, (202) 347-7550 ext. 3023
While conflict over Colorado River water sharing has grabbed headlines for years, water pollution problems from human waste, toxic chemicals, and radioactive material have been largely overlooked and threaten to get much worse. Unless Congress and the federal government step in to bolster local cleanup efforts, the drinking water for 25 million Americans will be at risk.

#2 Big Sunflower River (MS)
Contact: Melissa Samet, (415) 482-8150
A pair of costly flood control boondoggles promoted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers threatens Mississippi's Big Sunflower River. Unless the Environmental Protection Agency vetoes the Yazoo Pumps, this single project will drain and damage seven times more wetlands than all the nation's private developers harm in one year. Without firm opposition from EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Corps of Engineers will also dredge more than 100 miles of the Big Sunflower's riverbed, destroying even more wetlands, stirring up a toxic stew of pesticides, and endangering the health of those who eat fish caught in the river.

#3 Snake (WY, ID, OR, WA)
Contact: Michael Garrity (206) 213-0330 ext. 11
Dams on the Columbia and lower Snake rivers have caused dramatic declines in the Snake River's once abundant wild salmon population, with all the river's runs either extinct or sliding toward extinction. Studies show that local economies would benefit from thousands of new jobs and hundreds of millions of new dollars if wild salmon were restored to the Snake River. However, unless the Bush administration delivers a credible plan to rebuild wild salmon populations, these economic opportunities will be lost and our generation could be the last to enjoy these legendary species.

#4 Tennessee (TN, AL, MS, KY)
Contact: Jamie Mierau, (202) 347-7550 ext. 3003
Along the length of the Tennessee River, overloaded wastewater systems discharge large amounts of inadequately treated sewage into the river with distressing regularity. Unless the Bush administration holds these sewer systems accountable - and Congress provides financial assistance - the Tennessee River will continue to be deluged with sewage.

#5 Allegheny and Monongahela rivers (WV, PA, NY)
Contact: Sara Nicholas (717) 232-8355
Thousands of abandoned mines are leaking acid and other toxic substances into streams throughout the coal country of western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Unless Congress reauthorizes the Abandoned Mine Land Trust Fund, ongoing efforts to fix this problem will cease and the amount of pollution reaching the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers will increase, threatening 42 public drinking water intakes, thousands of private wells, and fish and wildlife.

#6 Spokane River (ID, WY)
Contact: Ross Freeman, (206) 213-0330 ext. 16
More pollution concentrated in less water will be the future of the Spokane River unless new groundwater withdrawal applications are rejected, sewage plants meet stringent water quality standards, and mine waste is cleaned up.

#7 Housatonic River (MA, CT)
Contact: John Senn, (202) 347-7550 ext. 3056
Irresponsible industrial activity has left the floodplain and river bottom of the Housatonic River contaminated with some of the highest levels of toxic PCBs in the nation. People who consume contaminated fish and wildlife from along the river are at elevated risk for cancer, birth defects, and immune problems. Unless the Environmental Protection Agency orders a cleanup of the remaining contamination, General Electric Company's toxic legacy in the Housatonic will remain a major health hazard for generations to come.

#8 Peace River (FL)
Contact: Serena McClain, (202) 347-7550 ext. 3004
Phosphate mining in the Peace River watershed has been the source of serious environmental problems for many years, and large new mines are planned. Florida's Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District must take measures to safeguard the river and communities in the watershed from mining impacts, including protecting the drinking water for more than 750,000 people and important tourism and commercial fishing industries.

#9 Big Darby Creek (OH)
Contact: Jack Hannon, (202) 347-7550 ext. 3025
Despite its close proximity to Columbus, Ohio, Big Darby Creek has managed to escape many impacts of urban sprawl. That may be about to change. Unless state and local governments adopt and enforce river-conscious land use planning in the Big Darby watershed, one of the highest quality streams left in the Midwest may become just another polluted, flood-prone urban ditch.

#10 Mississippi River (MN, WI, IA, IL, MO, KY, TN, AR, MS, LA)
Contact: Kelly Miller, (202) 347-7550 ext. 3008
After decades of manipulation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Mississippi River is beset with problems. Unless Congress gives the agency marching orders that reflect the needs, desires and opportunities of today's communities, the river faces ecological collapse with vast negative economic impacts to tourism and recreation industries worth $21 billion per year.


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