Water Conservation in Spokane

Tagline: When we use water in Spokane, our river feels it. Proper conservation, however, may ensure the health of the Spokane River for generations to come.

What we do (Jule)

Overview of water usage and its impact on the Spokane River:

Here in Spokane, when we use water, we pull from an underground source – the Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie (SVRP) aquifer. Our massive SVRP aquifer pours into the Spokane River, providing critical cool, clean water during periods of drought. In the drought year of 2015, the Department of Ecology studied the impact of the interconnectedness between the aquifer and the Spokane River. They documented the tangible effects of this interconnectedness: when water is drawn from the SVRP aquifer, the amount of water flowing in the Spokane River is decreased. The Spokane River more than a beautiful sight – it is a place of recreation, a natural habitat for many species of fish and invertebrates in our region, and a prominent symbol in Spokane’s cultural heritage. The more water Spokane takes from the aquifer, the more likely the recreation and ecology of river will be threatened. Therefore, the need to address water conservation in our city is vital for the future of our river, and all that it supports.

Check out the science from the 2015 drought here.

What’s needed:

Water used outside of the watershed will never return to the river. As the region grows, demand for water outside of the watershed such as in Medical Lake and Airway Heights increases. The issue of water conservation is not new to the West, and, unsurprisingly, neither are the many solutions that cities and communities have derived to secure the future of water. Cities like Salt Lake City, UT, and Albuquerque, NM, have led the way in the West. And their primary tool: a comprehensive water conservation plan.

Spokane has been laggard to follow these cities, but now, after the support and advocacy of groups like Spokane Riverkeeper, is developing its first water conservation plan. This plan possesses the potential to guide Spokane’s water conservation policies and practices indefinitely.

Currently, the city is addressing water conservation primarily through modifications in public parks, and reduction of “system distribution loss” – in other words, fixing leaks in Spokane’s water pipes. A water conservation plan would be the next significant step to encourage a city-wide decrease in water consumption.

(Here it gets a little more technical and might not be for the website)

The Water Conservation Plan Gold Standard

Taking from the model cities of Albuquerque and Salt Lake City, Spokane’s water conservation plan should include:

·         Supply and Demand forecasting

o   Understanding current sources of water and water usage patterns to help set goals for the years to come

§  Optimally: this would include factoring in the impact of climate change

·         A series of goals, which should include, inter alia:

o   Reducing water consumption per capita

§  Increasing consumer awareness of their role in water consumption and conservation

o   Ensure sufficient supply of high quality water for Spokane citizens into the foreseeable future

o   Protect the Spokane Watershed, with specific attention to:

§  Recreation

§  Ecology

·         A series of proposed solutions to address these goals, including:

o   Implementing a “three-pronged approach”: education, policy, and pricing (taken straight from the SLC Water Conservation Plan

o   Education

§  Community outreach to promote change in water consumption habits

·         e.g. volunteer events that teach and engage citizens

o   Policy

§  Incentivize and/or mandate change through prohibition or encouragement of behaviors

§  Infrastructure changes within the city (e.g. continuing to reduce system distribution loss)

§  City Ordinance that would increase water conservation requirements when Spokane River reaches a specified low flow rate (cfs)

Climate change (CIRC?)

§  Limiting the amount of water that is pumped out of Spokane to other cities

o   Pricing

§  Economic incentives to reduce water consumption

·         e.g. progressive pricing

·         e.g. SpokaneScape water-efficient landscape incentive program

o   Research

§  To inform and improve methods of pursuing solutions