Sustainability and environmental protection are two important principles we take into account as we make decisions at the City. We are working to identify and address ways that climate change and rising energy prices will impact our operations, services, programs, and policies. As a City, we have adopted sustainable practices to meet a myriad of regulatory requirements. Some examples include efforts to save energy, reclaim treated wastewater, conserve water, protect our aquifer and the Spokane River, and inventory our greenhouse gas emissions.
We strive to develop plans and strategies that are both environmentally and financially responsible. We want to ensure that we provide value for the dollars we spend. Setting strategies to reduce our waste and energy use saves us money that can be reinvested in other important direct services to our citizens. In the areas of water, wastewater and stormwater, we are working to develop a cohesive planning strategy to gain multiple benefits for citizens using the same dollar. We're also supporting strategies that encourage our businesses and residents to take similar steps to save money and address good stewardship of our environment.
Let's take a look at a number of components of our environment.
Spokane's air quality has improved since the early 1990s as a consequence of improved vehicle emission controls, burning controls, and street sanding and sand pickup requirements. Spokane is subject to occasional wind-borne dust storms from the Palouse, and fine particulate emissions from wood-burning stoves trapped by winter air inversions. Spokane's position in a river valley with surrounding highlands makes air pollutant trapping inversions an infrequent but recurring problem. Keeping valley air pollutant emissions at low levels helps mitigate the damage these events inflict.
Human use of water, along with changes in weather patterns and our climate, has resulted in lower flows in the Spokane River in the summer. Ground water on the West Plains has been dropping with some wells going dry. The City has legal rights to pump roughly twice the amount of water that we currently pump, but those rights are under legal challenge and are subject to future adjudication.
Water quality, both in the Spokane River and in the Spokane Aquifer, has generally been improving with implementation of the federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. Nevertheless, significant water quality challenges exist as the City and others strive to further reduce phosphorus inputs to the system and deal with historic PCB contamination exceeding State and Spokane Tribal standards.
The City is working on the largest infrastructure investment in its history to improve water quality in the Spokane River. Work under the Integrated Clean Water Plan will reduce untreated wastewater and stormwater from entering the River and also includes an additional level of treatment at the City's Riverside Park Water Reclamation Facility.
Humans have significantly impacted the land, both in the City and regionally, through development, industrial and municipal waste handling, farming/ranching, forestry, and mining operations. This region is blessed with very productive soils, particularly to the south and east (the Palouse) and to the north (Green Bluff, Five Mile Prairie, Peone Prairie, and Wildrose Prairie). These areas and soils are of particular importance in terms of our ability to maintain a sustainable economy. They also serve as important local sources of food.
We compete with and exploit the living things around us. In most cases this competition is one-sided, resulting in reductions in biodiversity and extinction of species. Invasive plants and animals and disease-causing organisms challenge our attempts to control the environment. Biologists view diversity of life as offering potential solutions to human problems and providing some insurance that living things as we know them might remain after serious survival challenges.
A key component of the environment we live in is energy. Topics of concern here include sources of energy, how efficiently it is delivered and used by people, what results from this use, and what of the energy not harnessed.