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Water and Fish Program

The Water & Fish Program began in 2001 combining EPA and Tribal funded water quality programs with the BPA funded Joint Stock Assessment stream and lake assessment project with the overall goal of protecting and improving water quality and fisheries. The Spokane Tribe began in 1998 to do work under the JSA project partnering with the Kalispel Tribe, Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to evaluate the fish stock status in the blocked area above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams. We have evaluated all fish bearing streams on the Reservation that empty into the Columbia and Spokane Rivers. Information collected includes habitat assessment and fisheries relative abundance while surveying each stream for fish barriers and limiting factors. Having completed the Reservation streams we are now evaluating those tributaries emptying into the Spokane and Columbia Rivers. Evaluations of streams include a low flow assessment for resident fish populations and instream habitat as well as spring-time evaluation of adfluvial spawners traveling up the tributaries. Data is used locally by fisheries and water quality managers as well as maintained in joint database updated with data from each fish and wildlife manager in the region.

Much of Lake Roosevelt’s fishery is maintained by artificial production while natural spawning populations have been identified as being crucial for long-term sustainability of the lake and native populations. These baseline surveys assist area managers in evaluating and recommending future projects as well as areas in need of special protection. This year we will complete our surveys on the tributaries to the lower Spokane River and will be working on Hawk Creek and Indian Creek. Upon completion of Hawk Creek we will be working upstream on tributaries to Lake Roosevelt.

The water resources program began around 1993 with emphasis on the interior of the Reservation. With increasing awareness of upriver influences we are now very involved in water clean-up plans with Washington Department of Ecology and EPA that address limiting water quality factors such as temperature, total dissolved gas, dissolved oxygen, as well as heavy metals and PCB’s. The Water & Fish Program now maintains continual dissolved gas and oxygen monitors at three locations on the lower Spokane River. Temperature monitoring occurs as waters enter into the Reservation as well as all major tributaries into the lower Spokane River.

We work with local, federal and Canadian hydroelectric project operators to study the effects of dam operations and develop corrective and mitigation packages that reduce the water quality effects through FERC, TMDL’s (water clean-up plans), and the Transboundary Gas Group respectively. We identified total dissolved gas as the primary cause of net-pen fish mortality in the Spokane River prompting Avista to study and commit to improvements at the upriver dams to reduce dissolved gas production. We have co-authored TMDL’s with Ecology and EPA on total dissolved gas for Lake Roosevelt and the mid-Columbia River. We have been involved in the development of a temperature TMDL for the upper Columbia River. Wastewater dischargers in the upper Spokane River basin are working with the Tribe, Ecology, and EPA to develop acceptable phosphorus loading limits that will improve the downriver dissolved oxygen levels in Long Lake and in the Spokane Arm of Lake Roosevelt. Avista, upon evaluating its and the Tribes data has initiated a study of Long Lake Dam to artificially improve dissolved oxygen levels below the dam and reducing the amount of water in the Spokane Arm that experiences critically low levels of dissolved oxygen. The Tribe is an initiating government in the State Watershed Planning Process for the lower Spokane River that will develop an assessment of current water uses as well as a long-term plan for future water uses.

Heavy mining in the upper Coeur d’Alene basin has led to high levels of lead, zinc, and cadmium in the lower Spokane River. Industrial and legacy pollutants such as PCB’s, Dioxins, and PAH’s have shown up in fish in Long Lake at alarmingly high levels prompting us to conduct our own fish tissue analysis of the lower 34 miles of the Spokane River including the reservoir above Little Falls Dam and the upper reach of the Spokane Arm of Lake Roosevelt.

Fish tissue is shown to have high levels of metals in upper Lake Roosevelt initiating an EPA sponsored and Spokane and Colville Tribal supported RIFS (Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study) of which the Spokane Tribe assisted in collecting fish tissue throughout Lake Roosevelt to review current levels against previous data. The LRWQC (Lake Roosevelt Water Quality Council), of which we are a member, is a consortium of international, federal, state, local and Tribal entities concerned about Lake Roosevelt and intent on improving water quality conditions.

The Tribe, identified in the Integrated Resource Management Plan of 1994 and the current revised draft plan that the waters of the Spokane and Columbia Rivers should receive special protection by limiting land use activities such as building and logging to promote a natural and healthy ecosystem. We, through the Interdisciplinary Team maintain stream buffers against roads, logging, and home building.

We hope that through our monitoring and involvement in the many forums that we can improve the water quality and fish habitat for the use of future generations.