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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.


Check out our April edition of Washington Water Watch

Click here to read our newest installment of the Washington Water Watch newsletter.

This month, you’ll find articles introducing our new Staff Attorney, Dan Von Seggern, discussing the drought declaration in the state, the status of the Enloe Dam Hydro Project, a summary of the recently released”Freshwater Withdrawals in WA, 2010″ report, and more.

04172015 drought areas - dept of ecology


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.