Protecting the River

Spokane River

November 2019

The Spokane River is, quite literally, at the center of the City. It’s served as the lifeblood of the people here since long before there was a city around the river. Without it, Spokane wouldn’t exist.

Over the past decade, the river has been top of mind for City leadership and staff, especially through the creation and continual implementation of the Integrated Clean Water Plan. This extensive and ongoing effort is aimed at improving the overall health of the Spokane River by lessening the amount of pollutants that arrive in the waterway.

Not only has the execution of the plan — which included the creation of massive Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) tanks throughout the City — cleaned up the river, it’s also resulted in a number of positive changes to the City. Public Works Director Scott Simmons says that the City takes protecting the Spokane River into account when making decisions about things that might not even seem environmentally related at all.

“If you care about doing road projects cost-effectively and innovatively, you should care about the river just as much as people who use it for recreation,” says Simmons.

From the outset, the Integrated Clean Water Plan was intended to be both financially and environmentally responsible. This means that the project had to be paid for within the City’s commitment to limit utility rate increases to inflation. Simmons said they reverse engineered the massive undertaking to come in at $350 million, well below the half-billion-dollar price tag attached to early estimates.

The creation of 19 CSO tanks throughout the City meter the amount of stormwater and snow melt that travels to plants. This process removes dangerous pollutants that might otherwise end up in the Spokane River. The City was able to build this infrastructure mostly by using existing City properties, rather than purchasing new land. Also, the byproduct of the CSO tanks is the addition of green spaces and park improvements on the land atop the tanks.

With the last tank nearing completion, the sizable project has already proven successful during recent storm events and has made Spokane a national trailblazer when it comes to caring for its urban river.

“People might not remember what’s underneath them when they’re playing on a green space over a tank, but they should know that these are investments that will last long into the future,” says Simmons.

Read more about the progress Spokane has made.