Restoring the Spokane River: Community Collaboration

In the 112 miles from Lake Coeur d’Alene to the Columbia, the Spokane River is constrained by 7 dams, none of which allow for fish passage. In addition to the dams and bridge crossings, the river corridor has been modified, channeled, and fortified with rip-rap. While the downtown section of the river has seen significant improvement, the reach between Hamilton Avenue and Upriver Dam suffers from litter, homeless camps, erosion, industrial run-off, and general neglect.

Does it have to be this way? What might a “revitalized” Spokane River look like? How might we improve the riparian habitat and ecological function of the river while providing ecosystem services and recreational opportunities, especially for low-income residents? To explore these questions and develop solutions, INLC has partnered with university professors and students along with other local non-profit groups to form the University District Ecological Alliance (UDEA).

The stated mission of the UDEA is to work “collaboratively to ensure the ecological integrity, biodiversity, and resilience of a healthy Spokane River ecosystem.” To this end UDEA joined with a team of environmental studies students at Gonzaga University to begin a multi-year project to revitalize the Spokane River. So far this project has examined the ecological services provided by the Spokane River and how we can expand and improve the riparian zone. In consultation with Spokane County Conservation District, students identified six key sites in need of ecological restoration. The first of these is slated for restoration this fall.

Potential riparian restoration sites in the U District.

Students also began a biological inventory and assessment of the U District and developed an ecological monitoring plan to establish baseline conditions and changes over time. Another team engaged the Logan and Chief Garry neighborhoods to assess community needs regarding the river. The residents of these neighborhoods identified increased safe recreational access to the river and environmental education opportunities as priorities. An ecological keystone for revitalizing the Spokane River is Gonzaga’s Lake Arthur. Students have developed a plan to transition the lake into an educational, ecological, and aesthetic resource with increased breeding and nesting habitat for waterfowl and other species.

Moving forward, the UDEA and INLC will continue to be a resource for students and professors undertaking research projects to address the ecological conditions of the U District and the Spokane River with the vison of creating a vibrant and viable river corridor for both wildlife and human needs.

Bird’s eye view of reach ten of the Spokane River

Proposed Lake Arthur restoration plan, courtesy of SPVV

Dr. Greg Gordon is an Assistant Professor in the Environmental Studies program at Gonzaga University

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35 W. Main Ave., Ste. 210

 Spokane, WA 99201

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© Inland Northwest Land Conservancy 2020