UI, WSU to collaborate on sustainability study

UI, WSU to collaborate on sustainability study

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A boater navigates up the Spokane River Tuesday near Riverston in Coeur d'Alene. Through a grant from the National Science Foundation, the University of Idaho and Washington State University will collaborate on a two-year sustainability study of the human impact of the area's water supply.

POST FALLS - A pair of universities want to take a deeper look at human impact on the region's water supply.

University of Idaho and Washington State University scientists are collaborating on a two-year sustainability study of the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene corridor, including the Rathdrum Prairie aquifer, thanks to a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Water standards have been a contentious issue between the neighboring states lately, as the two differ on whether it's possible to achieve Washington's clean water standards.

State Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said universities from both states deserve to examine the issue.

"Determinations made now will have a lasting impact on growth on both sides of the state line," the chairman of the Senate's Education Committee said. "I believe it is time for a new study using state-of-the-art science and jointly undertaken by universities in Washington and Idaho that will assure that results aren't skewed in favor of one state over another."

The Rathdrum Prairie aquifer, the region's underground drinking water source, and the Spokane River both flow into Washington. The entire corridor is susceptible to contamination from both urban and industrial sources.

"The over-arching goal of this project is to improve the understanding of linkages between human dimensions and water resources in order to better enact a sustainable and resilient water system," said Todd Norton, an assistant WSU professor.

Post Falls resident Kristy Reed Johnson, who has sat on local water and environmental boards, said the study points the contentious issue between states in the right direction.

"It takes the political gamesmanship or the legal sabotages out of this," she said. "We have one of the most prolific aquifers in the world and, if we do this right, then we'll be just fine. If we don't spend money to figure it out and continue legal battles, then we all lose. This is about finding solutions instead of making deals and creating legal challenges."

Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls and the Hayden Area Regional Sewer Board have a pending complaint filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding the Spokane River cleanup plan.

The complaint says that Idaho has to shoulder too much of the financial burden for limiting wastewater discharge amounts into the river that flows into Washington.

Johnson said it's nice to have grant funding rather than government dollars because the money isn't for one particular state. She said water for future growth is cheap here compared to other places, and believes satisfying both sides is possible.

"It's important to know how we're using it and that we don't waste it," she said.

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