Upper Columbia River Group

   Washington State Chapter

 Explore, enjoy, and protect the planet



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   Washington State Chapter
   Save Mt. Spokane

   Spokane River Project

   Yakima River Future

   Similkameen River

   Beyond Coal

   Inner City Outings

   Quincy Data Centers


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Nature Exploring

In Eastern Washington

And North idaho

by Rich Leon (Sierra Club’s Trail Guide editor)

In this book you will learn how Coffeepot Lake got its name. Where to find waterfalls in the desert scablands. The best place to find moose. Where to find the best views of the Palouse. The best places to find wild mushrooms. All this and much more as you go nature exploring with someone who has roamed the back country of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho for the past 30 years.

Learn about how Coffeepot Lake got its name, where to find waterfalls in the desert scablands, the best place to find moose, where to find the best views of the Palouse, the best places to find wild mushrooms and much more as you go nature exploring with someone who has roamed the backcountry of Eastern Washington and North Idaho for the past 30 years.

Rich’s book contains 50 photographs of nature throughout our region.  You can find these books at Auntie’s, Hastings, Northwest Map Service, REI, and on the web.

Rico Reed, working with Rep. Timm Ormsby, took the first steps that led to Washington’s law banning phosphates from dishwasher detergents to protect waterways.  Click for an interview with Rico Reed.

Coal & Oil Trains - take action to protect our community and the planet.

Spokane train derailment, 1991.  click here for more photos
Oil train exploding in Quebec, July 6, 2013   Oil trains rolling through Spokane have renewed concerns about public health and safety.  We’ve long known that a derailment in our downtown core could have devastating consequences (including that Sacred Heart and Deaconess Medical Centers are just blocks away).  The July 6 oil train devastation of Lac Magantic with the terrible loss of life should prompt railroad towns everywhere to focus on what is underway with oil and coal exports - including the City of Spokane. (AP/ The Canadian Press, Paul Chaisson).
Response to oil trains in Quebec. (source: Stuff.co.nz)

Courtroom wins: 

Cleaner, flowing waters for Washington

December 2013

The Spokane River is the state’s most PCB-polluted river and a poster child for how polluters have thwarted implementation of the federal Clean Water Act.  That is now changing.  

On another Columbia River tributary, Sierra Club worked with a coalition to block Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) and the Okanogan PUD from dewatering Similkameen Falls.  This legal victory is important for waterfalls statewide, a step toward removing the Enloe Dam and restoring a free-flowing Similkameen River.

Sierra Club & CELP v. Spokane County

Sierra Club challenged the pollution (NPDES) permit issued for Spokane County’s new sewage treatment plant, with the goal of converting it to a “zero discharge” facility.  In a nutshell, the Clean Water Act forbids new discharges into an already-polluted river unless a cleanup plan is in place. Experts for Sierra Club and the County agreed that the County plant is discharging PCBs into the Spokane River, in violation of federal law. Represented by ace Clean Water Act attorney Richard Smith of Smith & Lowney, Sierra Club went to trial on March 25 against the Department of Ecology and Spokane County.

On July 19, the Pollution Control Hearings Board held that Ecology’s pollution permit had potential to violate Spokane River water quality standards, including the fish consumption based standards of the Spokane Tribe.  The Board remanded the permit to Ecology to identify pollutant sources, set reduction standards, and meet deadlines for achieving those reductions.

The Board rejected Spokane County’s claim that its participation in a Regional Toxics Task Force augmented the toothless permit.  The Board found that the Task Force is not a substitute for legal restrictions on quantities, rates, and concentrations of PCBs being discharged from point sources into the Spokane River.  The Board underscored that it is “uncertain that the Task Force will achieve any of its stated goals or achieve a measurable reduction in the discharge of PCBs.”    

Ecology and Spokane County have appealed the Board’s decision to Thurston County Superior Court.  Sierra Club and co-appellant Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP)  are now defending the Board’s decision, and are also involved in a companion lawsuit in federal court, asking EPA to step in and prepare a PCB clean-up plan for the Spokane River.

Links -

- PCB Litigation – Spokane River 

- Frequently Asked Questions

Enloe Dam and the Similkameen River

Enloe Dam is a 100-year old concrete plug sitting in the Similkameen River, near Oroville, that has not generated power since the 1950’s.
Okanogan PUD wants to restart generation by adding turbines on the riverbank next to the dam, diverting all water out of the river and de-watering Similkameen Falls, which sit just downstream of the dam. The Department of Ecology gave the PUD a permit to do just that, and Sierra Club and partners appealed.

Trial was held in April and May.  In August, the Pollution Control Hearings Board handed Sierra Club another victory, ordering Ecology to conduct a new aesthetic flow study if and when Okanogan PUD ultimately builds its economically troubled Enloe Dam project.  

The Board ruled that the original water quality permit failed to protect scenic and associated recreational values of the Similkameen Falls.  In the wake of the Board’s decision, we continue to explore next steps for removing Enloe Dam and restoring a free-flowing Similkameen River.

Sierra Club and partners were represented by attorneys Andrea Rodgers Harris and Kristen Larson.  Our co-appellants were American Whitewater, CELP, Columbia River Bioregional Education Project, and North Cascades Conservation Council – all members of the Hydropower Reform Coalition.

Winter Waters Celebration

Colville Tribes honored for Columbia River cleanup

Former Quincy mayor also honored for public health efforts

On February 23 in Spokane, Sierra Club's Upper Columbia River Group honored the Colville Confederated Tribes with its Watershed Hero Award.  We will also give our first Environmental Justice Award to the former mayor of Quincy, Washington — Patty Martin — for her work to protect public health at risk from an influx of data centers.  Winter Waters is held jointly with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy to help benefit our river and drinking water protection work in our region. More:

  1. Event Website

  2. Indian Country News

  3. The Fig Tree

  4. Spokesman Review

Citizens speak out:  No Coal Exports

About a thousand people turned out for a public hearing in Spokane on Dec. 4 for the Army Corps of Engineers to gather comment on impacts from a proposal to build North America’s largest coal-export terminal in Bellingham. Coal trains from mines in Montana to Bellingham would pass through Spokane - up to 18 trains per day, each 1 - 1.5 miles long.

View:  Spokane Hearing (slide show)

Link:  www.PowerPastCoal.org.

Nature’s Advocatethe UCR Group’s Newsletter

Here are some of the stories we’re following in Nature’s Advocate:

•Spokane River PCB Litigation Update

•Stand up to Big Coal – Attend the Dec 4 public hearing

•Save Mt. Spokane update

•Sierra Club appeals State’s decision to take water from Similkameen Falls.

View: Nature’s Advocate.

We’ve been busy with our Summer and Fall Conservation Outings Program.  Are you interested?  We’ll be starting leadership training in December.  Contact:  Carolyn Leon  lonestar4@aol.com or John Osborn John@waterplanet.ws

Slideshows from our 2012 Conservation Outings -

- PCB cleanup / Conservation Futures - Saltese Flat & Uplands  slideshow

- PCB cleanup / Riverwalk & Centennial Trail  slideshow

  1. -Coal Trains  slideshow

  2. -Bumping Lake Campout & Hike-a-Thon slideshow

  3. -Water:  Juniper Dunes Wilderness & Corporate Agriculture

Wild forests of Mt. Spokane State Park threatened by proposed ski area expansion. 

May 23.  While the Parks Commission is seeking statewide input on park management statewide, it is moving forward with destroying the remaining wild forests of Mt. Spokane State Park with a ski area expansion, State Parks are hurting across Washington, and scarce public funds are being used to expand a ski area rather than upgrade run-down lodges and other facilities. 

To help, and for more information:

- Chris Bachman

- Sierra Club comments: click here

  1. -Save Mt. Spokane Coalition

Flawed Federal Forest Plan risks Lake Coeur d'Alene, Spokane River.

May 3.  People who hunt, fish, hike and camp, and love north Idaho lakes need to take notice.  The draft forest plan for the Idaho Panhandle has big problems:  deleting wilderness recommendations for the southern Selkirks and major portions of Mallard-Larkins, deleting standards that have protected old growth and species viability, and ignoring the mine waste (lead, cadmium, zinc) that move with each new flood. 

To help, and for more information:

  1. -John Osborn

  2. -Sierra Club comments:  click here

  3. -Spokane River Project website

Sierra Club and CELP honor Spokane Watershed Heroes at Winter Waters Celebration.  Feb. 18

Deb Abrahamson, founder of the tribal grassroots environmental organization SHAWL Society: Spokane Watershed Hero.

Mary Verner, distinguished Spokane Mayor and City Councilwoman, 2004-2011:  Spokane Watershed Hero.

- Event website

  1. - Slide Show

  2. - Sherman Alexie: Sonnet, with Honor

Agricultural Economist warns Legislature about funding irrigation projects in eastern Washington

January 19  Sierra Club and CELP release an economic review by a retired WSU economist Norm Whittlesey that is critical of a state-funded agricultural lobby group's report that purports to justify $250 million in state-issued bond debt to expand surface water irrigation to agricultural lands eastern Washington

  1. -View more.

  2. -Dan Chasan:  Will taxpayers be taken for a ride on new state irrigation plans?

Sierra Club endorses Move to Amend the Constitution

Last April, the Board of Directors adopted a policy resolution in response to the US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, the case that struck down campaign finance reform provisions and protected corporate spending on political commercials as First Amendment speech.  The board-adopted policy resolution called on Congress to take action that would "lead to overturning the holding in Citizens United, and offered reasons why this is important.    http://www.sierraclub.org/policy/conservation/Citizens-United-Decision.pdf

In January, Sierra Club endorsed Move to Amend, a grassroots effort to get a constitutional amendment passed that would overturn Citizens United.  We join a number of progressive organizations that have already endorsed.  http://movetoamend.org/

Sierra Club Outings - 2011

explore, enjoy, and protect

Slide shows:

(1) Bicycling the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes

  1. (2)Coulees:  Great Missoula floods, shrub steppe habitat.

(3) Campout at Bumping Lake

More information on Outings. If you are interested in becoming a Sierra Club Outings Leader, click here.

Cancer Rates in Quincy increased to allow for new Data Centers

On Monday local citizens, challenging some of the world’s largest technology companies over public health threats to Quincy, asked the state’s environmental court to reconsider a ruling in favor of Microsoft after new documents were revealed.  Also in new developments, Microsoft asked the court to delay proceedings after the company completed emission tests on one of its massive diesel generators.  Microsoft had planned to submit those results as evidence in court proceedings.

View - Quincy, Washington Server Farms website

PCBs:  Spokane River needs a cleanup plan (TMDL)

PCBs pollute Washington’s waters. From the Duwamish to the Spokane, this group of industrial compounds associated with liver dysfunction and cancer is a risk to human life and wildlife. PCB manufacture is now banned in the U.S. EPA and Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) should be prompt in developing cleanup plans to protect the public interest. They are not – raising troubling questions.  Click here for more.

Quincy, Washington Server Farms. 

On September 29 a local citizen group appealed air quality permits issued by the State of Washington Dept of Ecology to Dell Marketing LP and Sabey Intergate-Quincy LLC.  Citizen action is prompted by continuing public health concerns that the State is allowing nearly 150 locomotive-size diesel generators as part of unprecedented influx of datacenters.  These appeals follow earlier appeals protesting the State’s pollution permits given to Microsoft and Yahoo!

View - Quincy, Washington Server Farms website

Water Rates, Conservation, and the Future of Water in the Spokane River & Aquifer

Cable 5 TV:  Spokane Councilman Richard Rush interviews Robert Lindsay (Water Resources Manager for Spokane County), Rachael Paschal Osborn (public interest water lawyer), and Marnie Rorholm (City of Spokane’s Water Stwardship program).

View “City Council Connection”

River Advocates to EPA:   Uphold the law, protect the Spokane River from toxic pollution

On July 18 Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) filed a “60-day notice” directed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failure to require the Washington Department of Ecology to prepare a water quality cleanup plan for PCBs in the Spokane River.  If EPA fails to act, the two organizations will file a federal lawsuit after 60 days.

for more, see:  Sierra Club’s Spokane River Project

Deadline looming to save Mt. Spokane’s forests.

Your comment due:  May 17

Please take a moment to write a letter and ask the Washington State Park Commissioners to protect Mt. Spokane's forests.  The Commissioners will meet in Spokane on May 18.  Their decision:  protect these forests on the west and north slopes of Mt. Spokane -- or expand the ski area and clearcut ski runs into these forests visible from Spokane.

Points to make in your letter:

  1. Support protecting the west and north slopes of Mt. Spokane as a "Natural Forest Area"

  2. Point out that the ski area expansion will destroy native and ancient forests, as well as rare sub-alpine ecosystems.

  3. These forests are important for wildlife (including wildlife corridors) and as watershed.

  4. Views of Mt. Spokane will be marred by the clearcutting of ski runs.

Click here for your "pre-addressed" e-mail to Washington's Park Commissioners.

The Mt Spokane 2000 proposal can be found on the resources page of the web: www.savemtspokane.org.   For a copy of the Sierra Club’s letter, click here.

A message and a warning

American Indian women aim to raise awareness of shared threat.

Spokesman-Review, April 23. 

A group of American Indian women, inspired by an environmental prophesy, passed through Spokane on Earth Day on their 1,800-mile walk from the Pacific Ocean to Lake Superior.

They were welcomed on Canada Island in Riverfront Park on Friday by the representatives of several Inland Northwest tribes, the sound of Native drumming and the roar of the raging Spokane River.

For full story, click here.


Mother Earth Water Walk

Conservationists head back to court to protect communities’ drinking water, challenge WSU water rights.  

Washington State University is using fossil water from the Grande Rhonde Aquifer to irrigate its 18-hole golf course. 

Water levels in the aquifer are dropping. 

Conservationists have stepped in to protect the future of drinking water for 50,000 people in the Pullman-Moscow area.  Click here for news advisory

Dishman Hills hiking -- with Rep. Jay Inslee

Eastern Washington’s water and public land issues discussed

On Sunday, March 27, Rep. Inslee invited conservation leaders for a hike to talk about Eastern Washington forests, waters, wildlife, and public lands.  Shown here from left to right:

Jon Snyder (Spokane City Council) who rode his bicycle to Disman Hills despite the snow,

Chris Bachman, Sierra Club volunteer working to save native forests of Mt. Spokane (see story below),

Rep. Jay Inslee

Sam Mace, SOS, working to breach the 4 dams on the lower Snake River to save the salmon runs from extinction (Judge Redden’s decision expected in June),

Hal Rowe, Sierra Club volunteer, working to save the wilderness of northeastern Washington state.

John Osborn (lower photo), Sierra Club volunteer, standing between Rep. Inslee and Sam Mace, working to protect rivers and drinking-water aquifers.

(photos:  Paul Fish, John Osborn)

Global Warming, Coal, and our Future

Historic agreement reached to phase out coal-burning in Washington state

TransAlta Corporation has agreed to transition off of coal, invest in energy efficiency projects and innovate energy technologies.

In Washington State, Sierra Club volunteers are focused on Washington’s only coal plant in Centralia. 

The Pacific Northwest is facing a series of pressing energy issues.  If you have expertise or just committed to a sustainable energy future for the Inland Northwest, then please contact Brad Hash or John Osborn.  Or for more information, contact Beyond Coal: Washington

Dr. Rivers - Watershed Hero 2011

On February 12 our Winter Waters event at the Patsy Clark mansion honored Dr. Dick Rivers - VA physician and environmental advocate.  For more on Dr. Rivers, click here.

This year 130 people attended Winter Waters, co-sponsored with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP).

A special thanks to all of you who attended to thank and honor Dr. Rivers.  Special thanks to Eymann Allison Hunter Jones ps, to donors of auction items and food, and for students and the volunteers with the planning committee who made the event possible.

Sierra Club - restoring the beauty and power of Spokane Falls

On August 25-26 Sierra Club volunteers Paula Whitson, and Rachael & John Osborn participated in a unique historic event:  working with Avista Corporation, waterfalls experts, and other groups and individuals to assess opportunities to restore water to Spokane Falls.

The tests are the result of the settlement between Sierra Club / Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Avista Corporation on the management of dams on the Spokane River.  The purpose is to evaluate possible modifications to water flows to restore the beauty of Spokane Falls on behalf of the public.  for more on this historic effort, click here.

On Sierra Club’s work to restore the Spokane River in TIME Magazine

Going Green: 

Greener Dishwashing:  A Farewell to Phosphates

- Bryan Walsh (November 13, 2010)

The Spokane river had a soap-scum problem. Runoff from the region's dishwashers was loaded with phosphorus, which helped get glasses and plates sparkling clean but was also fueling the growth of algae, which, in turn, were making Washington State's waterways an icky green. Besides repelling swimmers, the algae were sucking up so much oxygen they were suffocating other aquatic life. Experts estimated that as much as a third of the phosphorus at wastewater-treatment facilities was from dishwasher detergent. The other main phosphorus sources are fertilizer and sewage, and since farmers need fertilizer to grow crops--and since there's no easy way to get people to poop less--a group of environmentalists decided to focus on detergents.

Read more

Sierra Club Blasts EPA’s Approval of Spokane River Dissolved Oxygen Clean-Up Plan

On Friday, May 21, Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group criticized the decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to approve the Spokane River water quality cleanup plan for dissolved oxygen.

“After twelve years and four different versions of the Spokane River TMDL, you would hope that the agencies would finally get it right, but they did not,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, Sierra Club’s Spokane River Project Coordinator.  “This water quality plan is not sufficient to clean up the Spokane River.”

Sierra Club has participated actively in development of the TMDL since 2001 and commented on each of the four versions.  Versions two and three of the TMDL were withdrawn due to Sierra Club concerns.  

Algae bloom, Lake Spokane  (Photo:  Dept of Ecology)

The EPA-approved version, issued today, contains several serious flaws:

The plan contemplates issuance of a permit for Spokane County’s brand new wastewater treatment plant, which will allow additional pollution to be put into the Spokane River without assurance that existing pollution will be cleaned up.

The plan contemplates use of a “septic offset” program that assumes that groundwater is contributing phosphorus to the River even though the scientific studies indicate it is not.

The plan assigns a “responsibility” for dissolved oxygen improvement to Avista for Long Lake Dam, but does not quantify the amount of pollution that Avista must remove from the system.

The Plan creates disincentives for polluters to tackle the problem of non-point source pollution.

The plan is designed to allow a weakening of water quality standards in ten years.

 “Various polluters on the River expect to buy “credits” for pollution from the County’s septic tank elimination program – it’s like three-card monte for the Spokane Aquifer,” continued Osborn.  “Now you see it, now you don’t.”

More information can be found at Sierra Club’s website on phosphorus pollution and the Spokane River

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Upper Columbia River Group - Sierra Club

P.O. Box 413

Spokane, WA  99210