In the late 1890s, Spokane residents enjoyed a plentiful source of drinking water: the Spokane River. The city constructed Upriver Dam and a pump station that provided 10 million gallons of river water daily to citizens. By the early 1900s, the river grew more and more contaminated because the city’s sewage was dumped in it.
A clean water crisis loomed. Then city engineers figured out that the abundant water that construction workers sometimes tapped into at the pump station wasn’t river water. Have you ever dreamed that you open a door inside your home and discover magnificent rooms? The discovery of the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie was like that dream. Unbelievable.
Once discovered, the city developed an elaborate water system to tap into the aquifer and deliver it via pipes throughout Spokane. Today there are seven well stations and 37 reservoirs throughout Spokane.
Spokane’s entire water works system remains largely invisible. The invisibility isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The water supply is safer because of it. But the lack of visibility is mostly because we take our drinking water for granted. Turn on the tap, fill up a glass, drink it down.
Last week the city hosted an open house at its Upriver Water & Hydro Electric Facility. The facility wasn’t overwhelmed with visitors at the beginning of the week, but as media folks started highlighting the tours, the number of visitors increased.
The tours were fascinating. Visitors actually saw aquifer water, captured in an old brick well. The well, constructed in 1907 and now out of service, except as a sort of museum piece, is 40 feet deep. The aquifer water is crystal clear. The gravel at the bottom is actual aquifer gravel. The water looks good enough to drink. Indeed, chlorine is the only thing added to Spokane’s drinking water.
Chuck Deilke, a water-hydro operator, said schoolchildren usually ask two questions about the well: “How cold is the water in it?” (48 degrees) and “Has anyone ever fallen in?” (No.)
By this time of the school year, the warm air beckons students outside. Classes that haven’t used up all their field trip time, money or energy should consider an outing to the Upriver Water & Hydro Electric Facility.
The children taking these field trips will be responsible one day for preserving fresh, clean and tasty water. The Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie is not limitless, and as the region’s population grows, so will aquifer demands. And smaller aquifers and water sources in the region are always at risk of drying up or getting contaminated.
It’s hard to understand and care about natural resources you cannot see. At the water-hydro facility, the miracle of the aquifer is made visible.