Little Spokane River

The Little Spokane River and its tributaries are listed on the state’s polluted waters. We're working to better understand and reduce pollution in the Little Spokane River and develop a plan to improve water quality. Clean water is necessary to support safe recreation, fish, and other aquatic life.  The Little Spokane River is a major tributary to the Spokane River. The main branch begins near Newport and flows approximately 52 miles south to its confluence at the head of Lake Spokane.

Why is clean water important?

River flowing through grassland area

The Little Spokane River Watershed provides a recreational and scenic rural landscape consisting of forested ridges, small agricultural valleys, small urban centers, and abundant wildlife. 

Keeping the watershed clean is important because high levels of bacteria increase risk to people swimming, wading, or fishing. Too much phosphorus causes algae to grow at excessive rates. When the algae decomposes, it uses up oxygen, potentially stressing fish. High temperatures create poor habitat conditions for fish and other aquatic life.

The Little Spokane River and some of its tributaries, such as Dragoon Creek and Deadman Creek, do not meet clean water requirements according to our water quality assessments. The watershed also contributes a high amount of nutrients, such as phosphorous, into Lake Spokane. Issues such as stormwater runoff, sediment, riparian vegetation losses, streambank erosion, wetland losses, and agricultural and forestry management are major concerns. Problems include:

  • High temperature and bacteria
  • Low dissolved oxygen
  • High levels of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Too much sediment in the water column (turbidity)
  • High nutrient levels like phosphorus and nitrogen
  • Low pH

Our water cleanup plan

Water cleanup plans are required for each waterbody on the state’s polluted waters list. In January 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a water cleanup plan, called the Little Spokane River Dissolved Oxygen and pH Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) water quality improvement plan. This plan aims to address low dissolved oxygen, low pH levels, and phosphorus discharges to the Spokane River. The goal of the plan is to make streamside habitat improvements needed to support aquatic life and recreational uses in the watershed. We held a public comment period from Oct. 12, 2020 through Nov. 12, 2020. We also hosted an online public workshop on Oct. 20, 2020. The comments and our response to comments are included as an Appendix to the plan. You can view comments online in eComments.

What we are doing

We are working closely with key partners, including tribes, conservation organizations, and local agencies, to implement the Lower Spokane cleanup plan by reducing pollution sources. The majority of the pollution in the Little Spokane River comes from nonpoint sources including timber harvest, agriculture, and development. As a result, the cleanup plan focuses on improving stream health by protecting and restoring riparian areas. Additionally, implementing wide spread use of conservation tillage techniques (i.e. direct seed) will be critical to meet water quality standards. Working with our partners to address these pollution sources will create functional habitat for important aquatic species, like the mountain whitefish and redband trout, and ensure safe swimming, fishing, and boating.

Native plantings in plastic tree tubes scattered in wetland

A riparian planting implementation project. This streamside area is being restored with native plantings (shown in tubes), which will grow to create a buffer between the river and land uses.

We will be tracking progress toward implementing the cleanup plan and use this information to understand areas that are improving and where there is still work to do. Some activities we will track include:

  • Watershed evaluation problem sites identified
  • Pollution problem areas fixed
  • Acres of stream area protected and restored
  • Numbers of trees and shrubs planted in stream corridor
  • Acres of conservation tillage implemented
  • Instream habitat projects implemented

Studies used to develop the improvement plan