Spokane Journal of Business

Study sought of aquifer on West Plains

Previous attempts to fund $3 million multiyear job have been unsuccessful

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Greater Spokane Incorporated is seeking $1.75 million in federal money on behalf of the city of Airway Heights to fund a long-eyed study of the West Plains aquifer, which is a source of drinking water for Airway Heights, Medical Lake, Fairchild Air Force Base, and Four Lakes.

Airway Heights first sought funding for the project in 2004, says Albert Tripp, Airway Heights city manager. The multiyear study would encompass 130 square miles of land on the West Plains and likely would cost about $3 million to conduct, he says.

"Our principal purpose is to learn more about the aquifer, hopefully to be able to manage the resource," Tripp says. "Just trying to get informed is part of the challenge. There's not a lot of data that's been obtained."

Rob Lindsay, water resources manager for Spokane County, says such a study would be helpful for watershed planning for the local governments on the West Plains, which share a limited water supply for a growing population there. He says the water table already is being drawn down faster than it can be recharged, in some areas on the West plains.

"Water supplies within the basalt plain are finite," Lindsay says, adding that some conflicts are occurring regarding water there.

For example, he says, Airway Heights built a well near the intersection of state Route 902 and Craig Road, east of Medical Lake and near where Medical Lake and Four Lakes already were operating drinking-water wells. When Airway Heights pumps water from its well, that curbs the supply from the other wells, Lindsay says.

He says a drop in pressure creates a problem for Four Lakes because it can't reduce its pump power any further from where it's set already.

To address the supply issues, the city of Airway Heights is trying to learn where water might be stored if it were pumped in from the Spokane River or the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.

"It's a forward-thinking concept, but needs a great deal more study to understand where one would do such a thing," Lindsay says.

Airway Heights also is looking at reclaiming water for irrigation from its planned waste-water treatment plant, which is under construction.

Airway Heights, Medical Lake, and Four Lakes also participate in a watershed planning process along with Spokane County, the Kalispel Tribe, which owns the Northern Quest Casino, and others, but Lindsay says the fact that Airway Heights hasn't been able to get funding for the water study since it first proposed it in 2004 is "troublesome." He says the issues there will persist and grow with additional development on the West Plains.

Lindsay manages and administers grants for the watershed planning area, and says the group has spent tens of thousands of dollars studying the geophysiology of the area.

  • Jeanne Gustafson

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