by Joel Smith and Cara Gardner

Digging Down Deep -- POST FALLS, Idaho -- The Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie aquifer seems to be on everybody's minds these days, what with that heinous (but predictable) spill at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe refueling depot in Hauser. Last month, the Sierra Club and the Friends of the Aquifer called for an independent investigation of the spill, and on Monday night the Spokane City Council unanimously endorsed a resolution proposing the same.

Meanwhile, the bi-state, multi-agency study to determine the size of the aquifer and how much we can afford to pollute it before poisoning ourselves, chugs on. Tonight, Jan. 27, the study's principal characters will be on hand at the Red Lion Templin's in Post Falls to update stakeholders and the public on the progress.

Guy Gregory from the Washington State Department of Ecology, which is overseeing the work jointly with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Idaho Department of Water Resources, says that so far the study has focused on understanding the relationship between the aquifer and the Spokane River (along with other tributaries).

Scientists have established a network of about 53 wells throughout the aquifer area, which covers nearly 321 squares miles from Spirit Lake to Spokane. These wells are monitored monthly to establish the level of the underground water table. Eight of the wells are wired with instruments that take hourly readings. And in September, scientists took a massive simultaneous reading from more than 200 wells throughout the area, creating a virtual snapshot of the aquifer at that moment.

Still, much remains unknown about the underground river that provides the sole source of drinking water for more than 400,000 residents in the area. And though local mythology suggests that it's a ceaseless spring, Gregory says that "the amount of usable water in the aquifer is finite."

What the study aims to find out is how much water is left for development in Washington and Idaho, and how those levels affect relative contamination in the aquifer and in the Spokane River. Representatives will explain their findings at tonight's meeting.

The anticipated end product of the study (due out within two years or so) will be a computer-based modeling program that can simulate real and potential water-use scenarios in the aquifer. The study's backers hope the program will paint a conclusive picture of the aquifer's inner workings and provide a foundation on which policy-makers in Washington and Idaho can base their development and water-rights regulations.

Tonight's meeting runs from 6:30-9:30 pm at Templin's, 414 E. First Ave., Post Falls, Idaho. Presentations and progress reports will include visual representations as well. (Joel Smith)

Swimming? In January? -- SPOKANE -- We know, we know, we know. The last thing you're thinking about, as you feel your boogers freeze inside your nose on the frigid run from the front door to your ice-encrusted car in the morning, is taking a running jump off the end of a diving board.

But think about it you must, because the Spokane Park Board is. In the interest of scraping together a little spending money after last fall's horrific budget cuts, they're proposing a new fee-based system for public swimming pools to take effect this summer, and their window for public comment closes on Feb. 10. (Call 625-6200 to comment.)

The proposal recommends charging a $1 open swim daily rate for youth over age four, $2 for adults over age 17 and $1 for adults who accompany a child. Free open swim times for youth under age 17 would still be available one day a week at each of the city's six public pools, and youth and family season passes will be available for $39 and $79, respectively.

Boy, parks boards these days. When we were whippersnappers in Spokane, we swam as freely as the salmon in Capistrano, er, the Columbia. Whatever is this city coming to? (Joel Smith)

Virtual Reality -- COEUR D'ALENE -- So the snow is gone, the boards and skis are getting lonely -- heck, after this past week, even our gloves are missing us. But before all you winter adrenaline junkies let lethargy set in, there's still a way to feel the mountain air -- vicariously at least.

North Idaho College's Outdoor Pursuits program is presenting the annual Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour this Sunday, Jan. 30, at 7 pm in Schuler Auditorium (free for students; $10 for the public). It may not beat the rush of an actual day on the slopes, but you'll still get a decent mountain experience. (Cara Gardner)

Publication date: 1/27/05

Northwest Winterfest @ Mirabeau Park Hotel

Through Jan. 2, 2021
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