Check out the September edition of our newsletter, Washington Water Watch. You will find an article on our recent legal action to stop pollution from the Leavenworth Hatchery, Ecology’s new Reclaimed Water Rule, an update on our H2KNOW campaign, and information about a conference we are sponsoring about modernizing the Columbia River Treaty, “One River. Ethics Matter”. You will also find information about CELP’s upcoming events.
In this month’s newsletter, you’ll find an update on Washington’s drought, an article about the H2KNOW campaign currently going on in Spokane, a profile of Frank James, one of CELP’s board members, and more water news.
Check it out here.
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.
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.
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 Spokane’s Slow the Flow campaign.
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.
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.”
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:
- Reduce outdoor watering (especially stop overwatering grass)
- Fix broken or clogged pipes and sprinkler heads
- Fix leaks in all plumbing fixtures
- Install water-efficient devices (such as low flow toilets and shower heads)
- 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
Water Awareness Campaign launched in Spokane this week
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.”
“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.
Our June edition of Washington Water Watch is now available. Check it out here!
This month, we profile our new board member, Brady Johnson, discuss our intervention into a law suit filed that challenges the Dungeness Instream Flow Rule, update our work on the Columbia River Treaty negotiations, highlight a petition to restore Moxlie Creek and more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.