The Spokane Conservation District will meet with farmers and ranchers in the Hangman Creek watershed to update them on Department of Ecology plans to increase efforts to reduce pollution in the waterway.
Spokane Riverkeeper sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over Ecology’s old plan to clean up pollution in Hangman Creek.
The environmental group claims Hangman Creek still has “high levels of sediment and fecal coliform bacteria and high water temperatures caused by poor agricultural practices and land uses” and calls it “one of the most polluted creeks in Washington state.”
The creek flows northwest from Benewah County, Idaho, to Spokane, where it empties into the Spokane River.
The organization argues that the pollution prevents the recovery of redband trout in areas where it once thrived, and that in the long term the agreement will help provide livable habitat for salmon.
Under the settlement, Ecology must conduct an assessment of riparian and instream conditions of the watershed by June 2019 and issue a report designating priority sites.
“There’s going to be a higher degree of Ecology presence out in the watershed,” said Walt Edelen, water resources program manager for the conservation district.
The department will evaluate livestock and farm operations, Edelen said. Each year, the department will hand out 10 warning letters to ranchers and 10 to farmers where it has found “symptoms” that should be addressed to improve water quality, he said.
Farmers who receive a letter can request all information from Ecology and any photos or notes, Edelen said. Landowners can also meet with the conservation district and Ecology to discuss the situation and work out a solution, he said.
“These new settlement stipulations are binding for Ecology, and they have to do these,” he said.
Edelen foresees landowner anxiety.
“Any time you get a letter, whether they consider it a warning or a water quality violation letter, it kind of has the same feeling,” he said. “It’s time, energy and money that will likely have to go into it to correct it.”
Some operations may have chronic problems that need to be addressed while other problems may be from a one-time occurrence or not the fault of the landowner, Edelen said.
Hal Meenach, a farmer in the area, said it’s “more of the same” from Ecology.
“If you keep doing the same thing and expect a change, then you’re wrong,” he said. “They’ve been doing this for a very long time and have not had any effect on the watershed.
“Because the flows in the Hangman Creek system have decreased over the years, I expect the reaction of most farmers will be negative,” he said.
Ecology and Spokane Riverkeeper representatives are not likely to be at the meeting, Edelen said.
“All the meeting is is an update from the conservation district, so technically there’s no chance for input from any side,” Meenach said.
Edelen estimates more than 100 farmers and ranchers operate in the area.
“Just be aware they’re going to be out there and if you have a lot of erosion on your property or your livestock have access to water, there is a good chance you could get a letter,” he said.
The district has programs to help landowners who want to be proactive in addressing problems, he said.
The meeting will be 6-8 p.m. April 12 at the Fairfield Community Center. For more information, contact the conservation district at 509-535-7274 or email@example.com