July 26, 2007 in Voices

Water quality high priority

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Clean water. Everybody loves it. But few people are willing to personally do anything about it, suggests a Liberty Lake survey.

Completing a June survey for the state Department of Ecology, 91 percent of Liberty Lake area residents polled said water quality is a high priority for them. However, few were willing to sign a pledge to conserve water and cut back on fertilizers and detergents proved harmful to the aquifer.

The survey capped weeks of door-knocking last spring by volunteers from the Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District, who encouraged area residents to take a “watershed pledge.”

Volunteers presented pledges to 1,912 residents. Only 119 residents – 6 percent of those asked to pledge – signed on.

The company conducting the survey, Strategic Research Associates, concluded that while most Liberty Lake area residents value clean water, most aren’t ready to do anything about it personally.

“As seen with many projects of this type, there are a committed few in the ambivalent many who truly contribute to improving the environment,” the surveyors said. “… The challenge will be in reaching the larger audience.”

However, there was strong interest in paying someone else to do something.

The survey, which questioned 44 pledge-takers and 100 people who declined to make the promise, indicated that 76 percent of them were willing to hire someone to water their lawns conservatively and apply the kind of low-phosphorous fertilizer considered necessary to protect water quality.

About 45 percent of the people questioned also said they personally couldn’t do more because they don’t have the necessary information or skills.

When it comes to water conservation, a lot of information is available, said Brook Beeler, the Ecology Department’s watershed pledge director, but many people miss it.

“We’re all so busy in our daily lives that information comes at us, and if we’re not focused and paying attention, it can very easily pass us by,” Beeler said.

That most people value water quality while being unsure if they would or could help ensure it rang true for BiJay Adams, Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District’s water resource manager. The need for clean water is something district residents understand, Adams said, even if they’re fuzzy about how to help out.

The sewer and water district was formed in the 1970s because residents were worried about the health of Liberty Lake, which was slime-ridden. Septic tanks and land use around Liberty Lake were making the water unusable.

The sewer district was formed to handle wastewater, septic tanks were eliminated and land-use rules were established.

The battle has never stopped.

This week, the district will treat 12 acres of the lake with aquatic herbicide to combat Eurasian milfoil.

And water conservation continues to be a challenge for a district with limited rights to water for nonagricultural purposes. Most years, nearly 48 percent of the water used by district members goes to lawn irrigation and other seasonal uses. Lawn fertilizers and detergents containing phosphorous are a constant concern.

Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District still has a few thousand watershed pledge books with conservation tips available at 22510 E Mission Ave.

Among other things, the book suggests removing pet excrement from lawns, not over-applying herbicides and planting drought-resistant native plants instead of thirsty vegetation such as grass.

The district also offers district members phosphorous-free lawn fertilizer at no cost. And it offers phosphorous-free dishwashing detergent tips on its Web site, http://www.libertylake.org/news_&_events.htm.

The district office would be a good starting point for anyone wanting to do more to protect water quality, Adams said.

“In terms of landscaping and plant materials, the Washington State University Extension agency on Havana is a good place. They have a Master Gardener,” Adams said.

The WSU Extension Service office next to the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center in Spokane Valley also has water and landscaping advice on its Web site, www.spokane-county.wsu.edu/spokane/eastside/index.htm.

Next door to the Extension office, the Spokane County Conservation District has a “Green Zone” landscape of native and low-water plants.

The display at 210 N. Havana St. was created to give the public ideas about practical ways to conserve and protect water.

Information also can be found online at www.thegreenzone.org.

Spokane just launched a lawn-watering calculator on its Web site for people wanting to know how much water is enough. The calculator can be found at www.spokanewater.org/stewardship/.

The Ecology Department plans to use its watershed pledge momentum in Liberty Lake to ply the promise downriver on residents of Spokane Valley.

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