Heavy metals don't recognize state boundaries. That's why some people in Spokane, Wash., 30 miles downstream from Lake Coeur d'Alene, are worried.
"The metals are
coming this way, and we hope to slow them down so they don't also
poison the Columbia River Basin," " says Mark Solomon, director of
the Inland Empire Public Lands Council.
wants to contain the heavy metals forever in Lake Coeur d'Alene.
Zinc, which destroys aquatic life, flows freely through the lake
water, while lead, cadmium and mercury sink to the bottom after
oxidizing with sediment.
But metals on the lake
bottom may not be permanently entombed. Low oxygen levels in the
water, caused by fertilizers, dead plants, bark from old logging
operations, and garbage and human waste, can release metals back
into the water.
That worries Solomon, since the
Lake Coeur d'Alene Basin aquifer is the sole source of drinking
water for the 300,000 residents of Spokane. "The more we learn
about lead and its ability to harm the human body - no level is
acceptable," he says.
Heavy floods can also
sweep lake sediments downstream. Last February, a series of winter
storms pummeled the watershed and sent floodwaters into towns
downstream. Health officials estimate that in one day alone,
136,000 pounds of lead entered Lake Coeur
Barry Rosenberg, director of Forest
Watch, an arm of the nonprofit Inland Empire group, says flooding
has become worse in recent years due to extensive logging in
Forest Service destroyed this major river system with 30 years of
cutting," " Rosenberg says. "In a naturally flowing watershed there
wouldn't be abnormal runoffs, and the flushing of the heavy metals
into and out of the lake wouldn't be as great. What that forest
needs is a major restoration project."
Rosenberg says the Panhandle National Forest is planning new cuts
despite admissions they will further damage watersheds. Forest
Service officials say the timber sales will raise funding for road
and stream restoration work.
Not everyone agrees
with the warnings of some environmental groups. A recent editorial
in the Spokane, Wash., Spokesman-Review chastised the Inland Empire
Public Lands Council for using a federal grant to finance a video
warning of the migration of lead down the Spokane River. The video
was mailed to 10,000 Spokane residents.
John Webster called the campaign a "scare tactic, a propagandist's
lie, to imply that contamination levels threaten human life
throughout the drainage." As evidence he cited the fact that "there
are no human bodies lining the Spokane River or the shores of Lake
Coeur d'Alene." "