Leaders from the federal government, tribes, states, and non-profits gathered in Spokane, Wash., last week to sign an “executive statement” they say strengthens their commitment to reduce toxic contaminants in the Columbia River basin.
Signing the document were policy-level representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA Fisheries, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Washington Department of Ecology, Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership, Columbia Riverkeeper, U.S. Geological Survey, Yakama Nation, and Spokane Riverkeeper.
The statement, which notes public and scientific concern about the health of the basin’s ecosystem, was signed on Aug. 24. The statement recognizes the need for collaboration, improved communication and increased awareness and describes how the signatories will guide pollutant reduction actions in the basin.
“Given this need, we the undersigned commit to collaborate to reduce toxics in the Columbia River Basin through the formalization of the Columbia River Toxics Reduction Working Group, including the support of federal, state, and tribal executives to guide toxics reduction work in the Columbia Basin through collaborative decision-making.” The meeting in Spokane was the first executive level meeting of the working group. Technical discussions were held the following day.
The working group and EPA published a Toxic Reduction Action Plan in 2010 that outlines strategies for reducing toxics in the Columbia Basin. The working group was established in 2005 by EPA and other federal agencies, tribes, states, and non-profit organizations, and has coordinated much of the effort to reduce toxins throughout the Columbia River basin.
The plan outlines five initiatives and 61 actions to reduce a wide array of toxics in the Columbia River Basin. For more information see:
http://www.epa.gov/region 1 O/pdf/columbia/toxics-action-plan_sept201 O. pdf
EPA Region 10 Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran during last week’s meeting presented the Working Group’s Toxics Reduction Strategy and Key 2011 EPA Actions. All the executive leaders shared their organizations’ current accomplishments and concerns at the meeting of the working group.
“The Umatilla Tribes welcome and appreciate this partnership and cooperative effort,” said N. Kathryn Brigham, member of the Umatilla Tribe’s Board of Trustees. “Oregon’s revised water quality criteria for toxics are a significant landmark for Oregon. Now we need to make sure that Oregon’s standards translate into actual reductions and encourage other states to learn from Oregon and revise their water quality standards based on Native peoples’ higher consumption of fish.”
"Formalization" of the Columbia River Toxics Reduction Working Group means that the undersigned: 1) Acknowledge the importance of the Working Group for increasing collaboration and cooperation across the Columbia Basin on toxics reduction and 2) agree to allow staff to attend and actively participate, as resources allow, in the meetings of the Working Group which occur 2-3 times a year, the statement says. It stresses that the commitment is based on available resources and does not commit the agencies or governments to any additional resources to accomplish this work.
“The tribes’ recent Future of Our Salmon conference identified toxics as a significant threat to fish and the Columbia River Basin. This was a call to action,” said Paul Lumley, executive director for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “We are learning rapidly about the impacts of contaminants on salmon and lamprey and we must move this issue to the forefront. It has gone neglected for too long.”
The work group came together initially on an ad hoc basis back in 2005 to share information, coordinate activities, and develop strategies to identify and reduce toxics in the Columbia River Basin. The group also hosts watershed-based workshops to provide a forum to discuss strategies for reducing toxic contamination in the Columbia River Basin. All meetings and workshops are free and open to the public.
The executive statement is intended to help build on the momentum.
“We wanted a high level statement that said this work is important,” said Mary Lou Soscia, EPA’s Columbia River coordinator for toxics reduction.