Cities worry about costs of meeting Spokane River cleanup goals
Federal timelines for cleaning wastewater dumped into the Spokane River could be cut in half, and officials worry that could significantly raise the costs of upgrading treatment plants.
Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls and the Hayden Area Regional Sewer Board are awaiting final word from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this spring on permits for running their wastewater treatment plants.
Under the proposed permits, the plants would be required to upgrade their facilities over nine years to reduce the amount of phosphorus discharged during the summer to 50 parts per billion.
"This is quite a change," Coeur d'Alene wastewater director Sid Fredrickson told the Coeur d'Alene Press in an article published Saturday. "We're at 900 (parts per billion) now, so getting it down to 50 will be quite an accomplishment, to say the least."
And there are fears, based on comments from environmental groups, that EPA will reduce the timeline for compliance with the permit conditions, meaning funding for upgrades would also be expedited.
"We are the end recipient of the push to get the problems addressed not in nine years, but less than five," Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin said. "This all translates into the need for money."
Pollutants that enter the river contain nutrients, including phosphorus and ammonia, that cause plant and algae growth. As plants grow, they consume oxygen, reducing the amount for fish. Phosphorous comes from a number of sources, including human waste, fertilizer, storm runoff and household detergents.
Draft permits were issued last year for a water quality cleanup plan, called a Total Maximum Daily Load, that will govern the release of pollutants into the Spokane River in both Idaho and Washington.
The river flows from Lake Coeur d'Alene through Spokane to the Columbia River near Grand Coulee Dam in central Washington.
Environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, have criticized the draft permits for allowing Idaho to discharge too much pollution.
Rich Eichstaedt of the Center for Justice in Spokane, Wash., representing the Sierra Club, has said the EPA is being too lenient by allowing Idaho facilities nine years to come into compliance.
Washington dischargers are being required to respond now to the Clean Water Act, while the EPA is giving those in Idaho a "free pass," he said.
Wastewater officials from several Idaho municipalities said it's too early to say what plant upgrades would cost, but it won't be cheap.
"A few years back, it was estimated that a filtration system would cost $14 million, but with the increase in cost of materials it's probably closer to $20 million to meet the phosphorous limits," Post Falls public works director Terry Werner said.
A nine-year compliance schedule is needed to perform field studies, design construction, train employees and fine-tune the operation, Fredrickson said.
Post Falls has been operating under a permit that expired in November 2004, Werner said. The process for a new permit has been extended.
To treat some of its wastes during the summer, Post Falls has purchased 628 acres on the Rathdrum Prairie where treated wastes will be spread. But it will be three to five years before that system is ready, Werner said.
Information from: Coeur d'Alene Press, http://www.cdapress.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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