Gonzaga University School of Law’s Environmental Clinic will use a $10,000 grant from the Seattle-based Northwest Fund for the Environment to fund a Stormwater Investigation and Enforcement Project to help reduce threats to the Spokane River posed by stormwater.
The goal of the Stormwater Project is to protect and restore the quality of the Spokane River by implementing the Clean Water Act through public interest litigation and monitor its compliance. Through these efforts, the Clinic hopes to improve water quality by protecting the Spokane River from industrial point source pollution.
The Environmental Law Clinic, which provides Gonzaga law students with hands-on practical legal experience, will begin the estimated one-year project this fall, said Michael Chappell, director of the Environmental Clinic. Eight Gonzaga law student interns will be integrally involved in the project, helping water quality experts investigate industrial facilities and collect stormwater samples to determine Clean Water Act compliance. Once potential industrial polluters are identified, students from Spokane Falls Community College’s Water Resources program will collect stormwater samples. If those samples contain pollution exceeding permissible levels or water-quality standards, a series of compliance-promoting steps is planned that range from letters of notice to possible consent decrees between polluting facilities and the Clinic. If warranted, the Clinic may pursue litigation in federal court to ensure Clean Water Act compliance.
Stormwater has been identified as the leading source of water pollution in the United States and a major source of pollution in Eastern Washington. Because the Spokane River and Lake Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) are the primary sources of recharge for the Spokane aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for more than 600,000 people living in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, protecting them has special urgency, Chappell said.
The Stormwater Project will require entities and individuals to comply with the Clean Water Act’s stormwater permits, and to prevent polluted discharges from reaching the Spokane River via Spokane’s storm drain system. The Department of Ecology is the state agency that oversees stormwater pollution in the river.
The Gonzaga Environmental Clinic’s project will help send a message to industrial polluters and regulators that they can no longer pass these important environmental issues on to future generations, Chappell said.
“In the long term, we believe that achieving compliance with the Clean Water Act will lead to a renewed commitment to improve pollution-reduction measures that will ultimately improve water quality in Eastern Washington,” he said.
The Spokane River was listed by American Rivers in 2004 as the No. 6 most polluted river in the nation. Since then, multiple efforts have improved the river enough for it to be removed from American Rivers’ list of the Top 10 most-polluted rivers list. The Gonzaga Law School Environmental Clinic’s project is one of many efforts to improve water quality in the Spokane River.