Water should not be weaponized, and talk that the city of Spokane might take that approach to squelching unwanted development is troubling, but probably overstated.
The city and Spokane County have fallen out over how best to control growth. Some county-approved developments in the past have required the city to extend water and/or sewer lines, with a portion of the cost borne by city residents. A hole in Washington’s Growth Management Act that allows developers to vest projects, and by so doing assure access to city utilities even if the boundary expansion is overturned, has been irksome.
Last spring, city and county officials agreed to a truce while they worked on a development strategy that works for everybody.
But the city is now talking about an approach to controlling growth that relies on the power to withhold water by denying developers a certificate of availability. They could dig wells, but what becomes of the waste?
For most of the areas that would be opened by the county’s latest proposed growth area expansion, water and sewer line extensions are not an issue: The pipes are already there. The city will make money by selling the water and collecting utility taxes.
On the West Plains, where there is no aquifer and the city already has an extensive system of water mains, generating revenue from underutilized infrastructure is a potential gusher.
City Utilities Division Director Rick Romero says he’s brought the certificate issue to the forefront so the pluses and minuses of water availability are among the first factors considered when urban expansion is considered. The city has eaten investments on utility service extensions to a few developments subsequently ruled to be outside the growth boundary.
Instead of drafting, updating, but then shelving the six-year water plans required by the state, Romero says they can be a tool to shape boundaries and support wise economic development.
He notes Mayor David Condon is a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Water Council. About 80 percent of cities have water quantity or quality problems, neither of which are issues for Spokane with its huge rights to the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie aquifer.
Romero expects water to be a major issue for cities within the next two or three decades, but the crunch already has come to drought-stricken California. In November, voters there will be confronted with a $7.5 billion package of measures to address that state’s water issues.
Growth in Spokane is not so robust, to say the least, that water pistols need be drawn. The city and county agreed to a one-year cooling off period for revisiting growth management, and threats to withhold water are very premature, and unnecessary.
We should be strategic with our water, not tactical.