Environmental History 
of the Spokane River


Addressing the Problem 

In the 1970’s, the Washington Department of Ecology began monitoring Hangman Creek after fish populations had noticeably dropped and the river ran brown from sediment erosion. For 20 years monitoring continued without any immediate action. Reports from these monitoring programs can be seen below. In the fall of 1999, the Spokane County Conservation District (SCCD) accepted the lead agency and facilitation roles for the development of the WRIA 56 management plan and applied for initial funding to begin watershed planning under the 1998 Watershed Planning Act. The detailed implementation program was prepared by the WRIA 56 Watershed Implementation Team with the assistance of Sound Resolutions and Cascadia Consulting Group, and designed to coordinate and oversee the implementation of the 68 recommendations in the Water Resource Inventory Area 56 and was approved on February 19, 1998. It wasn't until June of 2009, the Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE) finally issued its findings from monitoring Hangman Creek. The results called for measures to increase the riparian corridor, to reduce water temperatures, encourage soil conservation techniques in farming along the Palouse to reduce erosion and increase buffers between the waters and grazing livestock. The EPA approved the Department of Ecology’s 10-year clean-up plan and provided the Department of Ecology with full authority to implement that plan. 

Legal Action for Hangman 

In 2015 the Spokane River Keeper sued the Environmental Protection Agency for approving the WDOE plan because it did not include steps to improve water quality, especially from nonpoint sources of pollution like individual farms and properties along the banks of the creek The federal lawsuit was settled in March of 2018 and the agreement requires the WDOE to produce a baseline report on creek conditions by June 2019, and will hold the WDOE accountable for progress by documenting its use of regulatory tools and enforcing clean water laws if voluntary, technical and financial assistance fail to correct problems. The problem, however, lies with the private landowners and farms along the creek who continue to till the loose Palouse soil and remove essential riparian corridors. To address pollution from forested and working agricultural lands, $15 million is available to the greater Spokane River watershed, courtesy of the lawsuit and grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2016. 

Repairing Damages 

Since acquiring funding , the Spokane County Conservation District is working towards an integrative clean water plan that funds and creates stream bank restoration projects, help plan and install riparian vegetation, while working on agriculture operations like direct seed and conservation tillage. A new program called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) also aids landowners improve operations and put best management practices in place that will help protect water quality. An abundance of work must still be done to improve the water quality of Hangman Creek and restore it to its natural and healthy hydrology. The people of Spokane are working tirelessly to make this idea a reality.

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