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News Release

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey


Release: December 11, 2003
Contact:
Jani Gilbert, Ecology, 509-329-3495;
pager, 509-622-3073

Bob Haynes, IDWR,
208-769-1450

Jim Hollingsworth, The Lands Council,
509-927-8810

Jeff Selle, Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce,
(509) 459-4107

Mark Savoca, USGS,
253-428-3600 X 2660

States and USGS sign historic aquifer agreement

SPOKANE-Having current and complete scientific information available to make good decisions about managing water from the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie (SVRP) aquifer is the goal of an agreement signed today by Idaho, Washington and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Agency officials, representatives from local chambers of commerce, environmental policy groups and citizens celebrated the historic agreement today at Red Lion Templin's Resort in Post Falls.

Linda Hoffman, interim director of the Washington Department of Ecology, Director Karl Dreher of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR), and Dr. William Sexton, Regional Hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) signed a memorandum of understanding this morning that spells out how the agencies will work together.

"We know that water in an aquifer pays no attention to political boundaries," IDWR's Dreher said. "So this first step marks a significant milestone in water management efforts in our two states."

The study comes as an outgrowth of Rathdrum aquifer groundwater management issues raised during contested water-right application hearings conducted by IDWR in 2002.

Congress has appropriated $500,000 for the first year of the study. President Bush signed the appropriation last month. The study is estimated to cost a total of $3.5 million.

"This is an important day for the greater Spokane area, because we will finally learn how much water is available in the aquifer and how long it will last," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Murray was instrumental in securing the funding for the aquifer study, along with Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho and U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash.

A group of government agencies, local organizations and private citizens have worked for two years to put together a mechanism to study the bi-state aquifer in a way that will give both states the information they need about the aquifer that serves more than 400,000 people in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene area.

"Projected growth in the area means more demand on the aquifer," said Ecology's Hoffman at today's signing celebration. "We need to know more about the amount of water in the aquifer, where it is, how it moves, how the aquifer water interacts with the Spokane River."

"We're excited to lend our support to this effort and to be an active partner in developing a study and information that will provide the best science possible," said Dr. William Sexton of the USGS.

"The Rathdrum Prairie-Spokane Valley aquifer is the lifeblood for the area," said Sen. Craig. "This study will provide the tools we need to ensure a continued healthy economy and a perpetual supply of clean water for Kootenai and Spokane counties."

U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., who secured funding on the House of Representative's side, agreed. "Water is one of our most precious resources in the Northwest, and this study will enable us to manage this resource for future generations in the most responsible way possible."

The memorandum states that "water resource demands are increasing at a time when aquifer and river dynamics are not well understood. This understanding is essential in making proper management decisions concerning groundwater and surface-water appropriations in the SVRP area."

The MOU establishes management, technical and policy committees; methods of assuring a high-quality, scientifically-sound product; and ways to involve the public in the process.

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