2006 Annual Priorities Report: Coeur d'Alene-Spokane River Basin
Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.
View the Updated Region 10 Environmental Strategy
Contamination in surface water exceeds applicable criteria in the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River basin by up to 200 times for dissolved cadmium and as much as 90 times for dissolved lead and zinc. The most heavily impacted areas, such as lower Canyon Creek, are devoid of aquatic life, while other areas provide only partial support for fish and other aquatic species (e.g., suitable for migration but not spawning and rearing).
In the North Fork Coeur d’Alene River watershed, land use has impacted the health, habitat and abundance of salmonids and other aquatic life, primarily because of excess sediment loading and hydrological changes to the system.
In the Spokane River, nutrients from human activity cause severe algae blooms and depressed dissolved oxygen levels in Long Lake. The Washington State Department of Ecology has determined that loading of nutrients, especially phosphorus, must be dramatically reduced if these water quality conditions are to improve. The overwhelming source of pollutant loading during the critical warm, low flow summer months are the discharges into the river from municipal wastewater treatment plants in Washington and Idaho. Also, a health advisory has been issued for consumption of fish in the Spokane River because of contamination by PCBs and heavy metals.
Description of the Challenge…
Why is it a priority?
The Coeur d'Alene-Spokane River Basin is located in northern Idaho and eastern Washington. It has been severely impacted by more than 100 years of mining, logging, and nutrient enrichment activities from agriculture, urban development, and municipal waste-water treatment plants. Mining contamination has affected more than 166 river miles of the Coeur d’Alene River corridor, adjacent floodplains, downstream water bodies, tributaries and fill areas. Significant measurable risks currently exist to humans (e.g., children with blood lead levels above the national CDC standards) and the environment (e.g., major tributaries devoid of aquatic life, yearly die-off of migrating waterfowl, such as swans and ducks). The contaminants are primarily metals, and the affected media are soil, sediment, surface water, and groundwater.
EPA Region 10 is a member of the Basin Environmental Improvement Project Commission. The Commission was established by the State of Idaho to direct and oversee clean-up efforts. It includes commissioners from Idaho and Washington, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the Federal Government, and Shoshone, Benewah, and Kootenai counties. A Memorandum of Agreement outlines the decision making process and implementation of cleanup. A Citizen’s Coordinating Council provides community input to the Commission. The areas affected by mining have been designated as the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex National Priorities List (NPL) facility. In addition, EPA has undertaken a number of actions to protect water quality in the Spokane River. We will continue to address protection of human health, the beneficial uses of Coeur d’Alene- Spokane River Basin waters (e.g., drinking water and aquatic life support), and long-term cleanup of the environment.
There are three priorities for the environmental cleanup to address; dissolved metals in surface water (particularly zinc and cadmium), lead in floodplain soil and sediment, and particulate lead in surface water.
Previous accomplishments include:
Goals and Objectives…
What are the desired long-term outcomes?
EPA, in collaboration with state, local, and Tribal partners, will reduce human exposure to lead and other metals, attain water quality criteria, reduce wildlife exposure to lead in floodplain soil and sediment, reduce particulate lead in surface water and downstream migration of contaminated sediment. TMDLs will be established for nutrients for Black Lake and the Black Lake Watershed, dissolved oxygen (nutrients) and PCBs in the Spokane River and for sediment and temperature in Hangman Creek and the Little Spokane River.
Strategy and Approach…
How do we anticipate achieving our desired goals and objectives?
- Human Health Cleanup: The 2005 construction season marked another successful year of on-theground cleanup work in the Basin. About 530 residential properties were cleaned up. More than 3,800 residential properties have been cleaned up in the site since 1989. In addition, mine and mill site cleanups moved forward in 2005. EPA and the State of Idaho worked together to complete the design and construction of the Sisters mine cleanup, and EPA and the Bureau of Land Management initiated the cleanup of the Constitution mine site,
- Ag to Wetland Conversion: After several years of planning and months of negotiations EPA and the Schlepps, a private landowner, have reached agreement on EPA’s purchase of an agricultural to wetland conservation easement. Approximately 400 acres are very desirable for a conservation easement. The area is relatively low in metals concentrations, close to high waterfowl use areas, and has low potential for recontamination.
- Box Consent Decree: On December 5, 2005, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Judge Lodge decision modifying the 1994 Consent Decree with the Upstream Mining Group (UMG). The Decree identifies UMG’s obligations, which include residential soil cleanup and funding for the Institutional Controls Program. In 2001, UMG indicated they would not comply with the Decree work obligations. While these issues were being disputed, EPA and the State of Idaho proceeded with a partial work takeover of the residential soil cleanup during the 2002-2004 construction.
Community properties and recreational areas are cleaned up to safe levels of lead in soils. Metals loading to streams is reduced. Waterfowl feeding habitat areas are safe.
Results from North Fork Coeur d’Alene River watershed assessment will support the TMDL Implementation Plan.
Black Lake annual measurements of total phosphorus, chlorophyll a, and Secchi Depth will provide a baseline of trophic state for trend analysis over time. Total phosphorus concentrations in all inlets to the lake are reduced. Effluent and receiving water monitoring requirements and effluent limits for nutrients in NPDES permits for Idaho and Washington will be met for the Spokane River.
Coeur d'Alene Basin Information
Spokane River Cleanup
Coeur d'Alene Basin's TMDLs
|In the next three years we expect to:
- Implement mine water management remedy and resolve longterm funding for continued operations to prevent contaminated minewater discharges into the South Fork,
- Complete work in the populated and non-populated areas of the Bunker Hill Box,
- Identify priority environmental pilot studies for water treatment, wetlands cleanup, and sediment removal, and
- Identify, in support of State of Idaho efforts, appropriate sitespecific water quality criteria that are protective of resident aquatic life.
Measures of Success…
How will we know we have achieved success?
Construction crews removing lead-contaminated soil from properties in the Coeur d'Alene Basin.