- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Environmental groups on Tuesday asked Gov. Jay Inslee to push for an increase in summertime flows of the Spokane River, to improve recreation and to maintain the scenic falls in the middle of the state’s second-largest city.

The groups want Inslee to reopen an April decision by the state Department of Ecology that rejected a petition seeking more water in the river.

They sent a letter to the governor saying they wanted to reach an agreement with the department to increase the river flow, and to avoid litigation.

“Our hope is that you will be willing to resolve the issues raised in our appeal without the need for protracted litigation,” the letter said. Inslee is aware of the issues and will review the letter, spokeswoman Tara Lee said.

The Spokane River originates out of Lake Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho and flows to the Columbia River in eastern Washington. A series of dams can regulate the amount of water in the river.

The groups seek a minimum summer flow of 1,800 to 2,800 cubic feet per second in the river, to support fisheries and recreation. But the Department of Ecology set river flows at just 850 cubic feet per second.

“This rule could effectively make every year a drought year for the Spokane River,” the environmental groups said.

The case has statewide significance because the Department of Ecology excluded recreation and outdoor recreation-based jobs from its economic analysis when deciding river flows, the environmental groups contended.

In making their April decision, Ecology officials said they were confident that flows of 850 cubic feet per second were adequate.

“Ecology is confident in the legality of the rule and that the adopted instream flows will protect and preserve instream values consistent with statutory requirements,” the agency said.

The agency said the Spokane River is “influenced by a variety of factors including seasonal weather, groundwater use from existing water rights, and operation of hydropower facilities.”

The governor has 45 days to respond to the letter. Petitioners are the Sierra Club, the Center for Environmental Law & Policy and American Whitewater.

“Our city owes its origins, its beauty and a great deal of its past and present life to the Spokane River,” said Tom Soeldner, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group. “It would be a betrayal of the river and our identity if we did not maintain healthy and aesthetic river flows that also support outdoor recreation and jobs.”

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