Environmental History 
of the Spokane River

What is an Aquifer?

An aquifer is an underground body of water that forms when surface water drains into permeable soils and rocks. The water continues to seep deeper underground until it encounters impermeable rocks such as clay and shale where it will pool above the rocks. There are two primary types of aquifer, confined and unconfined. Unconfined aquifers are those in which water drains directly into the aquifer from the surface source, confined aquifers have a layer of impermeable rock between the surface source and the aquifer itself. Unconfined aquifers are typically more susceptible to pollution. This is because there is no filter or "protection" for unconfined aquifers. Surface runoff can drain directly into the aquifer contaminate it. 

Aquifer Pollution Risks

One of the most serious risks to unconfined aquifers is what is known as stormwater run off. Stormwater is classified as rain or snow melt that does not immediately soak into the ground. As the water runs along the surface it will pick up chemicals and debris, these contaminants can impact water quality and prevent aquifer water from being safe to use. It is important to be knowledgeable of the ways we can potentially do damage to aquifers so that we may better plan to avoid them.

Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer

The Spokane Aquifer provides the entire water supply for the city of Spokane with everything from drinking water to water for industrial use. The Spokane Aquifer is an unconfined aquifer, meaning it is vulnerable to pollution from runoff and other sources. Protecting and preserving the health of the Spokane Aquifer should be a top priority, as it is what enables Spokane to grow. 

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