Committee Spotlight: Resource Recovery, Sustainability, and Biosolids

Saltese Flats Wetland Restoration

saltese flats

Following the Great Missoula flood, a shallow lake — later named Saltese Flats — formed in Spokane Valley. In the late 1800s, the drainage ditches were used to divert water to allow the emptied lakebed to be used for agriculture, and the rich soil provided crops to farmers for nearly 100 years. In the early 2000s, Spokane County bought approximately 600 acres of land on the former 1,000-acre lakebed, intended to be an alternative discharge point for the Spokane County Regional Water Reclamation Facility (SCRWRF, opened 2011), if discharge to the Spokane River was no longer possible. At this time, Saltese Flats has not been used due to a lack of need and the high cost to install conveyance to the site. The Flats are still being considered as an option for SCRWRF and the smaller, closer Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District water reclamation facility.

After buying the land, Spokane County worked to improve the biodiversity and quality of fauna and flora and made it accessible to the public as a natural area. The first step was returning water to the area; to do so, control structures were built on the old drainage ditches. The county can now open and close gates to keep water at the target elevation throughout the summer months. Next, the county tackled removing the invasive species, like reed canary grass, that dominated much of the wetland. With space to grow, native species that had remained dormant in the seed bank reappeared and began flourishing. Animals returned to the new thriving habitat, which drew bird watchers and other nature enthusiasts to the site.

To accommodate the influx of visitors, Spokane County added five miles of trails, two parking lots, kiosks, trash cans, portable toilets, and interpretive signs to the wetland. Future site features may include benches, viewing blinds, and a gazebo. To further improve site access and use, the county is building the Doris Morrison Learning Center (DMLC) at the north end of the wetlands. This center, opening in April 2023, will expand the county’s education and outreach program by supplying a place for schools to engage in hands-on, scientific learning and providing information about Saltese Flats to all visitors.

At the recent PNCWA conference, attendees had the option to visit Saltese Flats with one of the tours. Despite wildfire smoke, participants were able to walk on some of the trails, visit control structures, and learn about the history of the site. Next time the conference is held in Spokane, the county is looking forward to providing a tour of the new DMLC!

saltese flats tour

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