Water Quality Issues on the Spokane River

Water Quality Issues on the Spokane River

The quality of water of Spokane River is deficient, and this is attributed to the low oxygen as well as high levels of metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that present danger for fish and other aquatic life. The Washington Health Department has given a health warning for eating fish from the river because of the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls in fish (Rains, 2015). This has led to efforts of working to meet water quality standards of the river where the health department has started reviewing and reissuing clean water permits to make sure that the five wastewater treatment facilities which release waste into the river are working towards meeting the set requirements for clean water. This requirement for achieving clean water at the river involves strict limitations regarding the pollutants such as PCBs and phosphorus. The health department has also partnered with other agencies intending to improve the levels of oxygen and minimize toxic components in the river. The plans set out by the team to ensure there is improvement in Spokane river water quality include setting limits regarding the quantity of wastewater the cities and industries can discharge and maintain high water quality at the same time. Also, the collaborative team has suggested the actions that will assist in mitigating pollution from sources like stormwater, agricultural runoff, and forestry. Improving the Spokane river water quality will result in other uses of the river, such as recreation, fish habitat, wastewater management, and hydropower (Rains, 2015).

The local government and industries have been asked to submit their strategies of reducing pollution in Spokane River. This has however led to cries by the conservative groups which say that this is against to purpose of the river as a source of healthy fish and safe recreation (Hill, 2019). The local government asked the five giant companies which release wastewater to the river to give their plans on how they can minimize their discharge of carcinogenic chemicals into the Spokane River. This is aimed at setting legal limits for polychlorinated biphenyls, which are discharged into the river. The conservation groups, however, say that this should not be the case since there will be the need for freshwater consumption in the future, which calls for digging of wells that will be used by the taxpayer’s money for sewage treatment (Hill, 2019). The conservation groups view the government to be going against the goal of achieving proper water quality levels by the fact that it is setting up barriers that challenge the accomplishing of this objective. These groups argue that the government should instead be serious with what they say to be working towards getting rid of the chemicals which are said to be causing cancer at the Spokane River. Also, they opine that high-water quality levels would only be achieved when there are no exceptions, and every industry and individuals strictly follows the set-out regulations. They say that the Spokane River will achieve its purpose when the five major industries that discharge wastewater into the Spokane River should look for other ways methods of disposing of their waste (Hill, 2019).

The quality of water of the Spokane River is also interfered by the concentration of certain trace mineral found in creek bed sediment and tissues of fish. Research conducted at areas that show gradient stream size affected mining areas and areas of natural mineral deposits demonstrated that nine trace elements that are hazardous to the environment were detected. These elements include selenium, nickel, mercury, zinc, lead, copper, chromium, cadmium, and arsenic (Maret and Skinner, 2000). These trace elements are said to occur naturally from weathering of mineral soils and rocks as well as from human activities such as automobile emissions, industrial discharges, mining, burning of fossil fuels, and agricultural fertilizers and pesticides. Several trace elements such as zinc, selenium, and copper are important to plant and animal health, and could however, be dangerous, especially in great concentration (Maret and Skinner, 2000). Additionally, mercury, copper, arsenic, zinc, selenium, cadmium, and lead are some other components that are toxic to fish and other aquatic life. The tissue contaminant information showed that concentrations of mercury, copper, lead, zinc, and cadmium in macroinvertebrates and fish collected in and around mining areas were higher (Maret and Skinner, 2000).

Excavation and the associated ventures have affected the Spokane River’s residue-trace component geochemistry. The river basin’s surface sediments are rich in mercury, zinc, copper, arsenic, cadmium, and lead compared to levels at the historical background (Grosbois et al., 2001). The highest levels of trace elements are found to be cadmium, lead, and zinc, and the highest enrichment takes place in Spokane River’s upper section. This elevation of sediment-related concentration of trace elements found in the Upper Spokane River is relatively higher in demonstration of the problem presented to both human and aquatic health. There is an average decrease of enrichment downstream, and this demonstrates the increase in distance from the source and dilution by locally obtained and enriched materials whereby only cadmium and zinc show enrichment in the entire river basin. It is considered that the central origin of enrichment of trace elements in the Spokane River basin is ore processing and mining wastes, which is attributed to the unrestricted waste release by large scale ore-processing and mining activities (Grosbois et al., 2001).

There are environmental challenges which are associated with releasing wastewater, which is enriched in metal sediments into the Spokane River. This has resulted in numerous legal disputes going back to 1903, which is about two decades since the mining began for zinc, lead, and silver (Box, Bookstrom and Ikramuddin, 2005). Nonetheless, despite the activities involving disposal of waste in Spokane River from busy mining activities stopping in in 1968, sediments enriched in metal elements are still found, especially during high runoff periods, which are deposited on the valley flood plains. It was found out that metal components of suspended residue usually increase along the mining area and downstream of the gradient flattening below Cataldo (Box, Bookstrom and Ikramuddin, 2005). The sediments enriched in metal elements were found to be of elements like silver, antimony, cadmium, copper, lead, and arsenic, which were detected downstream near the mining region.

The water quality of the Spokane River can be determined by using periphyton for glass. The use of periphyton is based on the fact that they are water quality indicators. Also, they are essential because they automatically respond to any changes regarding the water environment. According to the research carried out on the Upper Spokane River to determine algae sensitivity for natural or artificial substrate, periphyton indicated that there was no particular difference in density between the natural rock substance and the algae colonizing glass (Nielsen et al., 1984). Contrarily, when the periphyton was placed on the rock substrate, they could gain higher ash-free dry mass and chlorophyll level, which are of similar weight to the algae on the glass substrate. Therefore, the periphyton on the rock substrate demonstrated to have an advantage over the periphyton on the glass substrate regarding the primary production process (Nielsen et al., 1984). This makes it possible to view that artificial substances made of glass will result in underestimation of the productivity of periphyton in water that is flowing.

The Spokane River’s promising trout has been affected by the fluctuating flows. It has been reported by fishermen that there is a decreased number and size of trout, which has not been the case for an extended time. The decline of trout is said to be as a result of dam operations, lack of spawning habitats, and overfishing (Underwood and Bennett, 1992). It has been found out that overfishing is brought about by high demand for fish. Some angler groups in Idaho have asked for the establishment and implementation of more strict regulations, which include reducing the creel limits as well as size limits. It is also recommended that there is a need for extra data on recruitment, growth, mortality, and abundance. Also, it has been suggested that the Idaho section’s fishery quality would change depending on the climate conditions and spawning success. In this vein, strong year-classes would be essential so that it can overcome the high natural mortality that will lead to the quality fishery (Underwood and Bennett, 1992).

It is essential to understand the river dynamics and aquifer within the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie to make better management decisions regarding groundwater and surface water appropriations. Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie is the sole drinking water source for a massive population of about half a million residents in Spokane County, Washington, and Kootenai County, Idaho (Hortness and Covert, 2005). This area is comprised of the rapidly growing cities. In regards to the recent and calculated commercial, industrial, suburban, and urban growth, there are rising concerns about the possible future water quality and water availability effects in the Spokane River and its tributaries as well as SVRP. The concerns associated with water-resource are water quality challenges relate to changing activities of usage of the land, declining stream flows with time, low streamflow that extends to Spokane River, as well as the rising ground-water demand (Hortness and Covert, 2005). There is also an increase in demand for water-resource during a period when river dynamics and aquifer are complicated to be understood. As a result, this calls for the understanding of river dynamics and aquifer that will be important in decision making. However, the management of the SVRP aquifer is difficult as a result of the state to state and multi-jurisdictional duties for the SVRP aquifer.

Over the past decades, several studies on the environment has been carried out in the river basin by environmental engineering organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies. A lot of these efforts were aimed at the environmental effects of zinc, lead, and silver mining and ore processing activities, which have been there for over a century (Beckwith, 1998). Nonetheless, despite the past investigations being restricted in range and utilized several methods and approaches, an integrated comprehension of aquatic biological conditions, quality of water, and hydrologic aspects continued to be inadequate for the entire river basin. The water quality at Spokane River can be monitored by a water-quality monitoring network that is integrated with the processes of decision-making. This monitoring network would be necessary for producing high-quality information, which will be used as the basis of making sound natural-resource and water-quality management decisions as well as evaluating the effectiveness of those decisions (Beckwith, 1998).

The water quality of the Spokane River can be improved and maintained through the establishment of legislation to govern it, which is supported by scientific findings (Soltero, Singleton & Patmont, 1992). Therefore, organizations cannot use economic and other considerations to justify their actions of degrading aquatic systems through wastewater disposal. Water resource planning and management of Spokane River will eventually lead to improved quality of water. The Spokane River, together with its main reservoir, which is Long Lake, has faced substantial algal blooms as well as the continuous growth of macrophytes stands. The primary origin of nutrients in Spokane city was the main sewage treatment facility. However, advanced wastewater treatment marked the improvement of the reservoir’s trophic conditions. The water quality of Long Lake improved because of the initiation of the allocation of a phosphorus waste-load for every source discharger in the drainage (Soltero, Singleton & Patmont, 1992). Also, the establishment of legal standards that were enforced improved water quality. Currently, there is a collaborative effort between dischargers, regulators, and scientists who are working towards managing the loads of phosphorus in the drainage basin of the river. This partnership has proved to be a reflection that the best strategy to facilitate high water quality can be achieved through local management of the process of degradation (Soltero, Singleton & Patmont, 1992).