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H2KNOW and City of Spokane join together to encourage Water Conservation

High water use impacts Spokane River flows

H2KNOW: Our Spokane River is Low and the City of Spokane’s Slow the Flow Program joined together today to strongly encourage people to conserve water during our drought, record-high heat, and a drastically reduced river flow.

“We are pleased to join the City of Spokane in strengthening awareness of aquifer-river relationships and an increased call for water conservation,” said John Roskelley, H2KNOW co-organizer, CELP board member and former Spokane County Commissioner. “During this drought summer, governments, businesses, and people are all pumping high levels of water and this is robbing our river of its water.  Such extremely low river flows have negative impacts on small businesses, fish and wildlife, family recreation, and the overall identity of our community.  ‘Near nature, near perfect’ is more than a slogan, it reflects a deeper relationship with our river.”

Compare the Spokane River at 2500 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the photo on the left, taken July 2014, to 630 cfs in the photo on the right, taken this August from the same spot in Riverside State Park.

Spokane River at 2500 cfs  - Photo by John Osborn, taken at Riverside State Park

Spokane River at 2500 cfs – Photo by John Osborn

Spokane River at 630 cfs - Photo by John Osborn taken at Riverside State Park

Spokane River at 630 cfs – Photo by John Osborn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rick Romero, the City’s Utilities Division Director, said, “Just as the City has taken a strong regional leadership role on improving the water quality in the Spokane River through the development of its Integrated Clean Water Plan and plans for more than $300 million in river investments, we want to enhance our leadership role on water conservation efforts and protecting our river flows.  We are proud that our citizens already are responding positively.  Following record water pumping in June when temperatures were unusually high, our pumping numbers for July are pretty average when looking at the last 25 years of data.  And, today, we ask citizens to continue their work to ‘Slow the Flow.’”

Today’s water conservation message builds on approval by the City Council on August 10th of a request to make the position of Education Coordinator for the City’s Water Department full time.  As noted by Council Member Jon Snyder:

… We have to have a systemic approach that not only addresses consumer use and how people use water but a whole planning and a whole vision for our water future here in the Spokane area.

… I’m also looking forward for chances for this Council to weigh in on the Water Plan and other Water Policy so we can make some good decisions that will last years into the future.  (view statement)

The City and H2KNOW urge Spokane water customers to keep in mind the Spokane River and voluntarily reduce their water use by 10 to 20 percent.  This can be achieved through the following and other simple solutions around the home:

  • Reduce lawn watering to only twice per week. Don’t water on windy days, and turn off your sprinklers when it rains.
  • Water your lawn and garden only at night or in the very early morning; water evaporates in the hot mid-day.
  • Take shorter showers and install a low-flow showerhead.

Many other money-saving, easy actions can be found at the www.H2KNOW.info as well as at the city’s www.waterstewardship.org.

Citizens should also think long-term.  Weather forecasters already are predicting that the Pacific Northwest may have another low-snow winter and long, hot summer in 2016.   Install low-flow toilets, change your landscaping to remove thirsty lawns and install water-efficient native plants.

H2KNOW is a community awareness campaign is supported by the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, Upper Columbia River Group of Sierra Club, and the Columbia Institute for Water Policy.

Follow H2KNOW on Facebook and check out our website.

Follow Spokane’s Slow the Flow campaign.


Water Use at Historic High, Spokane River near Historic Low

Update and correction from the H2KNOW campaign:  the data for this blog post were from the USGS website, and have subsequently been revised upward to flows around 700cfs.  “Provisional Data Subject to Revision” is noted on the river gage website.  Current flows of around 700 are extremely low, while not yet at historic lows. Despite low flows, water use remains high.

H2KNOWriverlow-1

Spokane River flows dropping

 Plea for community to conserve water to help struggling river

Today the H2KNOW community water-conservation campaign sounded the alarm that water levels in the Spokane River dropped below 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) for the first time this summer.   Meanwhile, City of Spokane water use is at an all-time high: 3.8 billion gallons in July, or 122 million gallons of water each day.

“Our Spokane River is in trouble, and we must conserve water,” said John Osborn with the new H2KNOW water conservation campaign. “We must use water wisely to help our struggling river.”

Spokane River at Riverside State Park (from the suspension bridge at Bowl & Pitcher).  River flows were at 630cfs.  photo - John Osborn

Spokane River at Riverside State Park (looking upstream from the suspension bridge at Bowl & Pitcher). On August 8, 2015, river flows were at 630 cfs. photo – John Osborn

Water supply is provided by groundwater from the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer. The Aquifer also supplies water to the Spokane River. Increased groundwater pumping for human use directly depletes flow in the River.

Hot temperatures approaching 100 degrees are forecast again for much of this week. Drought combined with excessive water use by the 500,000 people living in this basin are causing historic extremes in low flow for the Spokane River. The lowest flows ever recorded are in the mid-400 cfs range, and we have begun to break the record according to the USGS Spokane River gage. Low flows harm fish, wildlife, recreational opportunities, and businesses that depend on the river.

“Conserve water for the river’s sake,” said Tom Soeldner, a retired Lutheran pastor who co-chair’s Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group. “There is a void in leadership from our government on water conservation during this drought. We as individuals must take responsibility for protecting our Spokane River.”

Five actions that people can take to conserve water and help our Spokane River:

  1. Reduce outdoor watering (especially stop overwatering grass)
  2. Fix broken or clogged pipes and sprinkler heads
  3. Fix leaks in all plumbing fixtures
  4. Install water-efficient devices (such as low flow toilets and shower heads)
  5. Replace your lawn with low-water plants

Comparing flows now with prior years underscores the terrible condition of the river and the need for people to act.   One year ago, in 2014, lowest flows were about 900cfs.   When Spokane was a young city in the 1890s, flows ranged from 1500-2000cfs in August. River flows are monitored at a stream gage near the Monroe Street dam, the oldest continuous gage in Washington State.

During the first week of August, the H2KNOW campaign launched a regional public education effort to help people understand the connection between aquifer and river, and the need to conserve water during this drought summer and beyond.   For more on the water conservation campaign and what people can do, visit www.H2KNOW.info

 

 


“H2know: Our Spokane River Is Low!”

H2KNOWriverlow

Water Awareness Campaign launched in Spokane this week

kids news conference JO photo 8-5-2015

During this summer of drought, river advocates are highlighting the message: conserve water to protect our Spokane River. (CELP photo)

This morning, where the aquifer springs bubble up and flow into the Spokane River near the TJ Meenach bridge, a concerned group of Spokane citizens launched, “H2KNOW: Our Spokane River is Low!” a public awareness campaign that highlights the critical relationship between human water usage, the aquifer and the flow of the Spokane River.

Campaign co-organizer John Osborn, a Spokane physician and conservationist, as well as CELP’s Board Chair, reached down and scooped up aquifer-spring water and said, “Nearly every bucket of this aquifer water we use is a bucket that doesn’t flow into the Spokane River.” Pouring the water back into the River, Osborn encouraged, “While we should conserve water anyway, we have a very special reason to use water wisely: when we pump our aquifer, we rob our river. That’s why we created H2KNOW public awareness campaign to help save our Spokane River.”

Spokane citizens are encouraged to visit www.H2KNOW.info for more information and tips on how conserve water in and around our homes, especially this summer.

H2KNOW aims to educate and motivate Spokane-area citizens about the low river flow that has been brought on very early this summer due to low snow and record-high heat. Osborn noted that water levels are approaching record lows, and it’s only early August.

John Roskelley, former Spokane County Commissioner and clean water advocate (and CELP board member) spoke to the economic and recreational loss that is tied to the River’s low flow, “The Spokane River is what our quality of life is all about,” he said. “This is not just about today or tomorrow, but about this community’s future. The river drives a great deal of our economy from tourism to industry and impacts small businesses and home owners. Near nature; near perfect is not just a slogan, but a way of life here and the river has a great deal to do with it.”

billboard JO photo 8-5-2015

In Spokane, seven billboards were posted this week as part of a public education campaign to conserve water to help the Spokane River at extremely low flows. (CELP photo)

“H2KNOW” billboards appeared around Spokane beginning Friday, August 1st. One version reads, “Know the Flow – River Running Low,” with a tied-off garden hose and dry rock in the river. Another features a snake-like coiled garden hose and a great blue heron with the question, “Is Your Hose Draining Her Habitat?”

Tina Wynecoop, whose husband is a Spokane Tribe of Indians elder, noted the tremendous efforts to clean up Spokane River pollution and the need now to focus on protecting the river’s flow. “The river is gasping for water. Especially during this year of drought, we need to protect the aquifer that gives the river its ‘breath.’”

With the H2KNOW campaign officially launched, organizers are now actively forming alliances with stakeholders, scheduling speaking opportunities, and most of all, will continue working with a person-to-person approach to increasing public awareness.  John Osborn wrapped up today’s campaign kickoff event by calling on all Spokane-area citizens to “think about our Spokane River and wildlife who depend on these waters every time you turn on a water faucet.”

The campaign is supported by Upper Columbia River Group of Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, and the Columbia Institute for Water Policy.

 


State Department to include Ecosystem Function in Columbia River Treaty

United States moves closer to negotiating with Canada to modernize international River Treaty

Hanford Reach on the Columbia river

Hanford Reach on the Columbia River

Today Northwest conservation groups and the fishing community praised the U.S. State Department for including ecosystem function in the nation’s negotiation position as it prepares to negotiate the Columbia River Treaty with Canada.   The State Department’s decision came in a May 20 letter received on May 28 by members of the Northwest Congressional delegation, and is based on Regional Recommendations issued in December 2013 by the Bonneville Power Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The State Department letter to the Northwest Congressional delegation states, “Based on the Recommendation, we have decided to include flood risk mitigation, ecosystem-based function, and hydropower generation interests in the draft U.S. negotiating position.  We hope to approach Canada soon to being discussions on modernization of the Treaty.”

In the face of mounting regional concern about the need for the United States to move forward and negotiate with Canada, the State Department letter emphasizes that modernizing the river treaty is a priority for the nation:  “The Administration recognizes the significant economic and cultural role the Columbia River plays in the lives of your constituents in the Pacific Northwest, including numerous communities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.  We assure you that the future of the Treaty is a priority, and internal deliberations are gaining momentum.”   The State Dept and the Council of Environmental Quality briefed the regional’s Senate staff on February 27 and May 5, and the House staff on May 27.

With glaciers melting in the headwaters and water temperatures rising in the lower Columbia River, climate change is already threatening the river and fisheries that depend on the river.  Adding ecosystem function as a third treaty purpose co-equal with hydropower and flood risk management would encourage both Canada and the United States to co-manage the Columbia River as a single river, restore salmon to areas now blocked by dams, and reconnect the river with floodplains.

“There is solid, broad-based support among Northwest states, Tribes, businesses and citizens to promptly begin formal talks with Canada to modernize the half-century-old Columbia River Treaty for tomorrow’s Northwest,” said Pat Ford, representing  Save Our wild Salmon.  “Conservationists and fishermen applaud the State Department for taking this needed step.”

“WaterWatch of Oregon commends the Obama Administration for taking the initial steps needed to get the region to the goals of abundant salmon runs, healthy river ecosystems and economic vitality for the many communities that depend on the Columbia River,” said John DeVoe, WaterWatch of Oregon’s Executive Director.

The basis for the State Department’s decision is “Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty after 2024,” issued in December 2013.That recommendation includes restoring the ecosystem as a primary purpose of an updated treaty, co-equal to hydropower and flood control — a feature that will make the Treaty a model of international water management.  “The Regional Recommendation gives the Obama Administration a unique opportunity to improve the health of an iconic international river.  The northwest Congressional Delegation, and in particular, Senators Murray and Wyden, are to be commended for recognizing the need to seize the moment,” said Greg Haller, Conservation Director for the Pacific Rivers Council.

“Based on the Recommendation, we have decided to include flood risk mitigation, ecosystem-based function, and hydropower generation interests in the draft U.S. negotiating position. We hope to approach Canada soon to being discussions on modernization of the Treaty.” -- U.S. State Department

“Based on the Recommendation, we have decided to include flood risk mitigation, ecosystem-based function, and hydropower generation interests in the draft U.S. negotiating position. We hope to approach Canada soon to being discussions on modernization of the Treaty.” — U.S. State Department

All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation.  Religious leaders have joined in support of Tribes and First Nations, based on the Columbia River Pastoral Letter.

“Canada and the United States together have stewardship and justice responsibilities to manage the river as a single ecologic system,” said John Osborn, a Spokane physician and a coordinator of the Ethics & Treaty Project. “In a time of climate change the international effort to modernize the Columbia River Treaty can by summarized with just four words:  ‘One River, ethics matter.’”

The Columbia River Treaty went into effect in 1964.  In 2024 flood-risk responsibility, now shared by Canada and the U.S., shifts to the United States.  Canada would only provide assistance when the U.S. requests help.  Such a change will have major impacts in the U.S. on reservoir levels, hydropower production, water supply, irrigation, and salmon.  As written, the recommendation includes a public process to explore innovative ways to manage river flows and flood risk.

Center for Environmental Law & Policy  |  WaterWatch of Oregon

Pacific Rivers Council  |  Save Our wild Salmon  |  Sierra Club  |  Columbia Institute for Water Policy

Links –

 


Drought Declared in Washington

Governor Inslee’s recent declaration of drought in 24 of Washington’s 62 watersheds has triggered a flurry of activity.   By law, drought is declared when a region’s water supply is at 75% of normal (or worse) and this water deficit will cause “hardship” to water uses and users.

04172015 drought areas - dept of ecology

Washington has experienced a fairly normal year for rain, but air temperatures over the winter were nearly 5 degrees F higher than normal, making the 2014-15 winter the warmest on record.  As a result, snow fall was scant.  Mountain snowpack is like a natural reservoir.  As accumulated snow melts over the summer, it percolates into groundwater and feeds the headwaters of streams.   Water will flow in streams during summer months, even with no rain, as a result of snowpack and groundwater reserves.  This year, snowpack is substantially less than normal for the Olympic, Cascade and Northern Rockies mountains, and as a consequence, we are facing a very dry summer season in Washington.

Western US Snowpack (4-1-15)

The biggest impact will be on fisheries.  Irrigated agriculture is also taking a hit, especially in the Yakima basin.  Municipal water supplies, especially for cities with big reservoirs (e.g., Tacoma, Seattle, Everett) appear to be in good shape.

In addition to physical aspects, drought has economic and political dimensions.  The Department of Ecology convenes a Water Supply Advisory Committee (WSAC) to make recommendations about

drought activities.  The WSAC has requested a $9 million appropriation to drill emergency wells, expedite water transfers, and provide loan and grant funding to farmers.

In an attempt to alleviate instream flow depletion, Ecology and others are conducting “reverse auctions” in the Yakima, Walla Walla and Dungeness basins.

Western US Summer Streamflow Forecast (4-1-15)

Essentially the state offers to lease water rights from farmers who are willing to forego irrigation this summer.  The goal is to keep water in upper tributaries that provide habitat for endangered salmon species.

Ecology is also seeking to lease or purchase existing water rights to offset use of emergency wells in the lower Yakima Valley.  These wells were drilled in 1977 but may not be used except in drought circumstances.  Since 1977, lawsuits and a US Geological Survey study have established that virtually all groundwater in the Yakima basin feeds into the lower Yakima River.  Thus, pumping from emergency wells without mitigation would impair existing users and instream flow water rights.   The bottom line is that water in the Yakima River basin is over-allocated, and in water-short years, junior water rights (called “pro-ratables”) take a big hit.  Ecology will not authorize use of emergency wells without mitigation.

This raises public policy questions.  Should it be the responsibility of Ecology to find “mitigation water” for junior users during a drought?   Should Washington taxpayers underwrite the purchase of water for junior users?

Of particular concern, when junior users convert from annual to perennial crops, dramatically increasing the financial risk associated with drought, who bears that risk?  The water users, or the public?

The Legislature has also convened a “Joint Legislative Committee on Drought” which is meeting regularly to discuss drought actions.   Their meetings can be viewed on TVW.

The drought declaration may be extended to cover even more watersheds, and a statewide declaration is even possible.   Large Puget Sound municipalities are comfortable with full reservoirs, and do not want a drought declaration that would lead their customers to conserve (and thereby reduce revenues).   But, smaller purveyors and stream flows around the state will be hurting given the snowpack scenario.

Drought declarations can lead to much mischief in the public policy arena.  CELP will report on drought activities throughout the spring and summer months to assess how well agencies and the Legislature respond in protecting public resources, i.e., public waters and public funds.