A settlement that the Berman Environmental Law Clinic helped negotiate means that after nearly a century, water will once again flow year-round at a historic site in Spokane.
Reached May 1, the settlement requires Avista Corp., an energy company based in Spokane, to maintain minimum water flow over Spokane Falls. The agreement also requires additional flow below the Monroe Street Dam.
The Spokane Tribe once fished for salmon at the base of the falls, and the city of Spokane, founded in 1871, was originally known as Spokane Falls. In the late summer, however, the falls often disappear because Avista dams have needed the water to generate electricity.
"This settlement wouldn't have happened without the clinic," said Rachael Paschal Osborn, director of Sierra Club's Spokane River Project and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy in Spokane.
Begun in 2003, the clinic prepares students to be legal advocates for environmental issues such as air, water, nuclear power and wildlife in the Pacific Northwest.
Michael Robinson-Dorn, director of the clinic, and his students represented Osborn's groups before the Washington State Pollution Control Board, challenging Avista's ecology certification.
A lawsuit focused on whether water had to be provided over the falls to meet state water standards.
The agreement paves the way for the federal government to issue Avista a new license to generate hydropower at Spokane Falls and various places along the Spokane River.
"Even when business and environmental groups have been arguing hammer and tong, they can achieve a good settlement, where the interests of each party are met," said Robinson-Dorn.
The agreement represents "tremendous economic value to Spokane," as new condominiums and a new hotel have recently been built near the falls, Robinson-Dorn said.
Plans call for work to be done on the Upper Falls powerhouse; thereafter, probably this summer, water will flow over the falls seven days a week.
The Spokane Upper Falls Powerhouse (the small tan building to the right), along with the north and middle channels of the Spokane River. Photo courtesy of Avista.