water use in the spokane area indirectly pulls from the river. Proper conservation, especially during is peak demand will ensure the flow of the Spokane River for generations to come.

What we do

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

We ask the City of Spokane to continue to develop a comprehensive set of strategies to conserve water and reduce pumping - specifically in the critical low flow, summer seasons. 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, leading to “interties” between city water systems. The Spokane Riverkeeper advocated for this intertie agreement that took the river’s flow into account. 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.

Formalize a comprehensive, performance based, water conservation plan that:

1. We ask that the City of Spokane continue developing a comprehensive set of strategies to conserve water and reduce pumping - specifically in the critical low flow, summer seasons.

a.      Enacts water conservation measures for city water use during the low flow critical seasons.  Specifically, address Spokane Parks and golf courses – set targets around the reduction of irrigated landscape acreage and water consumption at these facilities.   

b.      Engage with the sustainability programs at local universities and school districts where irrigation of grounds is common - develop water reduction goals during critical seasons.

c.       Suspended and/or renegotiate water sales agreements to include conditions that require specific conservation plans and measures as well as instream flow protections for the Spokane River.

d.      Find and reduce daily peak usage, reduce seasonal peak usage by identifying and addressing water use of the top ten percent of outdoor water users during the summer critical season.

 i.      Create the ability for the public to audit their own outside water use. Provide incentives for auditing and addressing household water use during the summer season

e.      Build on the ideas coming out of organizations like the Spokane Aquifer Joint Board. Enact ordnances that require codes and standards for irrigation systems in Spokane. Professional standards for the design and installment will increase efficiency.

f.        Connect water consumption and river flows to river health in the messaging of “Slow the Flow” campaign.

g.      Continue to enact all aspects of the Spokane sustainability plan.


2.      Reduce the Water Retail Service Area for the City of Spokane.  Exclude regions of Spokane County that are out of our basin or currently lack water infrastructure – draw it closer to actual city limits.


3.      Develop a set of policies that guarantee the benefits of water conservation are dedicated to augmenting and ensuring healthy river flows. 

One way forward would be to develop and enact by city ordinance, an in-stream flow guideline to inform municipal water consumption and sales.  Instream flow guidelines would be insurance that in those situations when the natural hydrograph does not provide enough water from Idaho and the SVRP aquifer, we are acting as good stewards of our own behavior and providing conservation dividends back to river flows.    The idea is that when the river drops below this a predetermined floor or base flow, seasonal water consumption measures are taken.