Improving the Spokane River

We're working with partners to improve oxygen levels and reduce toxic chemicals, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), in the Spokane River basin. Many projects and studies, intended to improve and protect all 112 miles of the river and Lake Spokane, are complete or underway.

Collaborative efforts help us identify ways to improve the river and lake health for many uses, including hydropower, wastewater management, fish habitat, and recreation.

What's in the Spokane River?

Spokane River suffers from low oxygen and high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and metals, which are bad for fish and other aquatic animals.

Because of the presence of PCBs in fish, the Washington Department of Health issued a Health Advisory for eating Spokane River fish.

Working to meet water quality standards

We review and reissue clean water permits to ensure the five wastewater treatment facilities that discharge into the Spokane River continue to meet clean water requirements. The new clean water requirements include strict limitations on pollutants like phosphorus and PCBs.

We started the rulemaking process to consider variances in 2019, as a first step to reissuing permits. However, we cannot move into the formal rule proposal phase of this process because the federal government's action to withdraw previously-approved water quality standards for certain human health criteria, including PCBs. We have challenged the action in court, while we wait for the courts to decide, we're seeking informal feedback on our preliminary plans. Visit our rulemaking webpage to see the documents and more information about how to submit comments. 

Along with our partners, we've developed several plans that set targets to improve the health of the Spokane River, Lake Spokane, and their tributaries. These plans:

  • Set limits on how much pollution cities and industry can release into the river and still maintain good water quality.
  • Recommend actions to help prevent pollution from sources such as stormwater, forestry, and agricultural runoff.

Who releases wastewater into Spokane River?

Five facilities currently release wastewater into the Spokane River:

Reducing pollution from other sources

Local conservation districts, environmental groups, and Avista are also working on additional projects to improve the health of the river.

Ecology currently facilitates an advisory group that helps us track recommended projects in the water improvement plan. These recommendations reduce nutrients and improve oxygen levels in the river and lake. The Spokane River Forum continues to maintain information related to the implementation of the plan.

What’s being done?

  • Conservation and environmental groups work directly with landowners to reduce runoff from forestry and agriculture practices. Spokane County's Nonpoint Source Phosphorus Reduction Plan recommends many of these actions.
  • Avista completed a Dissolved Oxygen Water Quality Attainment Plan that outlines activities that will help improve oxygen in Lake Spokane.
  • Spokane adopted an Integrated Clean Water Plan that helps prioritize projects for managing stormwater and wastewater.
  • Cities and industries that release wastewater into the river submit annual monitoring reports on the river's water quality.
  • The five wastewater facilities will upgrade treatment technology and meet strict phosphorus limitations outlined in the water quality improvement plan by 2021.
Our PCB Source Assessment Study provides the foundation for a strategy that identifies and reduces PCBs at their source in the river basin.

The Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force leads efforts to identify and reduce sources of PCBs to the river. The task force's comprehensive plan resulted from several years of studies that measured the extent of PCB pollution. The plan contains more than 25 projects and practices that, when implemented, will prevent PCBs from reaching the river.

We evaluate the work of the task force to see how well the innovative approach works. If the task force doesn't make measureable progress then we're obligated to take other measures and may pursue a different approach.
Our Toxics Cleanup Program works with parties responsible for pollution and the surrounding community to address contaminated sites along the Spokane River.  

PCB cleanup sites

 Metals cleanup sites

Related water improvement projects

Waterbody Pollutants Status
Dragoon Creek

Ammonia-N, chlorine, and total phosphorus.

Approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Hangman Creek

Fecal coliform, phosphorus, temperature, and TSS/turbidity.

Activities to address these pollutants are expected to also improve dissolved oxygen and pH.

Approved by EPA and has an implementation plan.
Little Spokane River

Dissolved oxygen and pH.

Fecal coliform, temperature, and turbidity.

The plan for fecal coliform, temperature and turbidity is approved by EPA.