They're fighting the good fight.
For about five hours Monday, various parties participated in a "dispute resolution hearing" in Spokane. The purpose of the meeting was for interested groups to tell a five-member panel of Washington Department of Ecology staffers why they support or oppose the proposed water quality standards for the Spokane River.
This is one of the most important issues Kootenai County has faced in years, and not just because of environmental considerations. The amount of phosphorus our primary cities' sewage treatment facilities emit in the river is directly linked to our region's ability not just to sustain current production levels, but to grow. That makes this one of the biggest economic issues to come floating down the river in some time.
Here's the beef: The Washington Department of Ecology has recommended a much more rigorous water quality standard for Idaho than for itself. While Washington would be permitted 42 parts per billion of phosphorus, Kootenai County would be held to a standard of 36. Even if the technology were developed to meet that 36 parts standard - which would be the most rigorous in the nation - finding the millions upon millions of dollars to totally overhaul wastewater treatment facilities in Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls and Hayden seems all but impossible.
Then there's the fairness issue, which in this case is so blatantly unfair that it seems ludicrous. Spokane Valley, in the process of building a multi-million dollar wastewater treatment plant that can't meet the 36 parts per billion standard, supports the proposal as is. Don't be so surprised; officials there have admitted that being held to a higher standard would in effect clamp a building moratorium on the entire region.
We regret that Kootenai County dischargers are having to spend time and precious taxpayer dollars defending themselves against this ridiculous double standard but applaud them for making a strong showing Monday. At some point, the five-person panel that heard testimony will make recommendations to Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant, who will then determine if any changes to the plan are warranted.
We insist they are warranted. Even though this isn't a sexy issue that draws lots of citizen attention, it will have a great bearing on our region's future. We hope citizens voice their support for a more balanced and practical plan. We mustn't wait until our area falls on harsher economic times as a result of poor policy now to express our outrage.