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Ecology looks to reduce Palouse River temperatures

Capital Press

Posted 5/20/2013

Public comment on a Washington Department of Ecology plan to reduce water temperatures in the main stem of the Palouse River will continue through June 14.

Elaine Snouwaert, water quality specialist for the department, said the river is too warm for fish and other animals.

Snouwaert said alterations to the river, extra sediment and removal of vegetation have contributed to the increase in the water temperature.

Part of Ecology’s plan includes implementing agricultural best practices to reduce soil erosion and runoff.

“Obviously, if our agency sees a problem that is violating water quality law for the state, (a notice to the farmer) could happen, but this plan does not specifically do that,” she said.

The project compared the current temperatures of the river with historical data to estimate what the temperature would naturally be. Ecology’s study found the river would likely not meet state water quality standards even under natural conditions, Snouwaert said. When the river meets “natural” conditions during summer months it will be in compliance with state standards.

Snouwaert said Ecology expects the river to meet water quality standards by 2072. The department is pushing to get as much shoreline vegetation as possible in place over the next decade.

That’s a typical length of time for a temperature project, she said, because the plants need to mature.

Landowner Robert Zorb estimates he’s planted 150,000 to 200,000 trees over the years on the land he owns in a 100-foot-wide buffer along several miles of the river.

Zorb, 83, owns farmland in St. John, Wash., and Moscow, Clarkston, and Potlatch, Idaho. Several nephews and a grass-seed company work his land. Zorb said he planted the vegetation to create habitat for game.

Zorb received national attention for his efforts, receiving a Ducks Unlimited Conservation Private Citizen Award and National Wetlands Award for landowner stewardship from the Environmental Law Institute in 2013.

“Oh, I couldn’t tell you the thousands of dollars I spent,” he said when asked the cost. “All I can tell you is it’s not cheap if they do it right. I didn’t own the farmland for a living.”

Zorb planted the first 25 percent of his trees on his own. Ecology paid him about 90 percent of the cost of planting. Zorb had to clear the land for planting and maintain the trees afterward on his own dime, spraying for Canadian thistle.

Zorb said the trees reduce erosion and river debris in fields.

He plans to put in about 8,500 trees on land near Clarkston too rocky for farming.

Ecology’s plan can bring focus and funding to efforts to implement best practices to reduce erosion and put in a vegetative buffer strip, Snouwaert said.

Comments should be sent by June 14 to Elaine Snouwaert, Department of Ecology, 4601 N. Monroe, St., Spokane, WA 99205, or by e-mail to



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