For the past decade, private land owners and conservation groups have coordinated with environmental and wildlife management agencies, government planners and water-based utilities to develop Watershed Management Plans for the greater Spokane River, the Little Spokane River, and Latah Creek (aka Hangman Creek) watersheds. The primary purpose of the watershed planning effort was to collect information about the hydrology of the river basin(s), estimate the demand for water for various uses into the foreseeable future, and develop a plan to meet the needs for those future demands that recognizes the availability and sustainability of the water resource; both surface water and groundwater. These plans also studied the needs for plant and animal habitat, as well as minimum flow needs for the streams and rivers; and made recommendations to protect and enhance those resources. In short, these watershed plans attempt to balance the needs of the natural environment with the needs of the built community.
A consistent theme throughout each of the regional watershed plans is that land conservation is essential to preserve and protect these watersheds. Preservation of established wetlands and aquifer recharge areas, and the protection of riparian areas along local streams is critical to sustaining a healthy watershed. Through the ongoing work of the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy, more of these critical areas are protected every day.
Each of the regional watershed plans is unique, of course, and reflects the wide diversity of the inland northwest. For that reason, each one of the next three INLC newsletters will highlight a specific watershed. The articles will include basic information for each watershed, and specific examples of the water resource challenges facing those watersheds. Topics may range from beaver relocation efforts to the latest in municipal wastewater treatment. And for each watershed, I will provide examples of natural resource conservation efforts making a difference.
The first article will highlight the Spokane River watershed, and many of the challenges associated with the interstate, urban center of the community. Topics will include municipal water supply for over 500,000 people in the face of the ongoing drought, our water-based connections with Idaho, Spokane River water quality, and the latest on the wetland restoration project at Saltese Flats in eastern Spokane County.
The second article will highlight the Latah Creek watershed and the unique nature of that primarily agricultural area. Water resource issues in this area include impacts to water quality from non-point sources and the associated challenges of restoring and maintaining riparian zones. Organizations like the Spokane Conservation District have been very effective in supporting these efforts. Water resource challenges associated with water supplies in the Columbia River basalts will also be noted.
Finally, the last article will highlight the many challenges facing the Little Spokane River watershed. This area in north Spokane County includes both urban and rural land use, and is growing rapidly. Water supplies vary significantly, with many residents facing severe water shortages this year. Stream flows have diminished in the Little Spokane River over the past 20 years, and legal proceedings in the state may have an impact on the legal availability of rural water in the future. In response, Spokane County recently completed a feasibility study to develop a water bank in the Little Spokane River watershed. On the conservation side, the watershed plan identified over 600 acres in the watershed that are suitable for wetland restoration.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments you would like me to include in this series. Also, there is a great deal of watershed planning information on the web at www.spokanecounty.org. Follow the links to Water Resources and then to Watershed Planning.