Jan. 27, 2015 Washington Department of Ecology--NEWS

State adopts instream flow rule to protect Spokane River

SPOKANE – A new state rule will preserve and protect water levels in the Spokane River for fish, recreationists and businesses for many years to come.

The Washington Department of Ecology adopted an “instream flow rule” for the river’s main stem in Spokane County and a small portion of Stevens County. The rule allocates specific amounts of water to the river to protect fish habitat and other uses.

“I know this community cares about the river – it is the heart of the region,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “Together, we can use our water wisely and preserve a clean and flowing river for generations to come.”

The rule protects the Spokane River and balances the needs of all water users by setting a regulatory threshold to determine when there is water available for new uses.

With the rule in place, Ecology can make decisions on existing applications requesting to withdraw groundwater from the Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, which is in direct continuity with the river.

Ecology acquired and placed into trust a senior water right with help from Washington Water Trust that will be used to support river flows and offset any new domestic well uses that could impact the river in the rule area.

The Spokane River plays an important role for wastewater management and hydropower in the region, and the rule will also help these and other instream uses.

Ecology considered recreational and navigational flows and primarily based water levels on studies completed by state biologists that describe how to protect fish habitat.

Ecology formally proposed the draft rule in September 2014 and solicited feedback from the community, receiving more than 1,800 comments. Each comment is carefully considered, summarized and responded to as part of the rulemaking process.

In Washington, the Legislature gave Ecology the responsibility to protect rivers and streams with an allocation of water set by establishing instream flow rules.