Spokane Journal of Business

Chambers want to know just how full aquifer is

Spokane, Cd’A organizations propose study to help them evaluate power-plant plans

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The Spokane Regional and Coeur dAlene Area chambers of commerce are considering launching a major new study of the regions underground aquifer that would carry a price tag of up to $1.5 million.

Representatives of the two chambers have come to the conclusion that there isnt enough information on how much water the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer contains or how it impacts other bodies of water in the region, says Jeff Selle, program coordinator for regulatory affairs at the Spokane chamber.

That information is needed, Selle says, before the two chambers can reach an opinion about whether its a good idea for two proposed power plantswhich together would draw up to 13 million gallons of water a day from the aquiferto be built on the Rathdrum Prairie. The chambers have been meeting recently to try to forge a joint stance on those proposed plants, but havent yet come up with a recommendation. The Spokane chambers board of directors, however, has taken a neutral position on the projects.

During the joint deliberations, it became apparent that, We need more certainty and information concerning our regional aquifer, Selle says. We have guesstimates of how much waters running through the aquifer, but no one knows for sure.

One of the plants, an 800-megawatt gas-fired facility, was proposed by North Idaho Power LLC, a subsidiary of Cogentrix Energy Inc., of Charlotte, N.C. The other, a 1,300-megawatt gas-burning plant, was proposed by Newport Northwest LLC, a subsidiary of Newport Generation Inc., of Irvine, Calif.

The two chambers have asked Jim Correll, Spokane-area manager of CH2M Hill Inc., the environmental-services company, to estimate the cost and technical parameters of such a study. Correll reported to the group last week that the study would cost $900,000 to $1.5 million, Selle says.

Its not known yet where the money would come from to pay for the study. Selle says elected officials from both Washington and Idaho have expressed interest in the project, and that some government funding could be available.

In any case, the chambers havent decided yet to go ahead with the study, say Selle and Charles Fernandes, public affairs manager at the Coeur dAlene chamber.

Its in the discussion stages, Fernandes says, adding that any recommendation of the joint-chamber task force would have to be adopted by the governing boards of both organizations for the study to proceed.

Having a definitive study of the aquifers capacity could help both chambers in their economic-development efforts, Selle says.

Currently, for example, if the chambers were to recommend that the power plants receive the water rights theyre asking for and the plants are built, Whats to say Micron, a year from now, decides it wants another chip plant and decides to go back to the Rathdrum Prairie to locate, but there isnt enough water to serve their needs? he says.

Now youve got a couple dozen power-plant jobs when you could have had 3,000 high-paying, high-tech jobs.

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