Ty Wick doesn’t come across as the man of steel, a caped crusader or someone who necessarily has the force with him.
He was graduated from Washington State University as an agricultural management major, for heaven’s sake.
In his early 40s, Wick speaks quietly about wellheads, reservoirs and all things underground.
His Waterworld has nothing to do with Kevin Costner. As general manager of Spokane County Water District 3, Wick oversees 200 miles of pipe and nine water systems that serve suburbanites from the Spokane Valley north to Chatteroy.
In the next few weeks Wick likely will emerge as someone hailed for trying to save the drinking water for future generations. Or, he could be vilified as the man trying to limit the business and develop plans of those who have big places for projects above ground and haven’t thought much of what is happening below the surface.
Wick is president of a group people have never heard of: the Spokane Aquifer Joint Board.
The board represents 17 independent water districts in Spokane County. These districts pump water to 110,000 residents in urban areas outside the Spokane’s city limits.
Individually, the water districts don’t make much news unless a pipe breaks or a pump fails. The Spokane Aquifer Joint Board, however, will soon begin making big news.
In a matter of weeks the board will unveil a map identifying about 5,000 sites where chemicals are used or stored. These are sites also where chemicals could be spilled or leaked and could pose a threat to the underground water supply.
Once these potential sources of water pollution are identified, Wick and the joint board will go to Spokane city and county officials with the suggestion the politicians adopt ordinances and procedures designed to keep chemicals out of the underground water supply.
This will be when things get interesting.
“We have this wonderful resource below the ground known as the Spokane Aquifer,” Wick said. “Today, we can just drill anywhere we need clean water and just pump it out. “It’s really the reason there is a Spokane. It’s why the pioneers stopped here in the first place.”
Could it be Spokane’s most remarkable feature lies underground?
The Spokane Aquifer, a gigantic underground lake filled with gravel and sand, stretches from the Washington-Idaho border, through the Spokane Valley to the western and northern edges of Spokane.
At the Idaho border, wells as shallow as 10 feet tap into the aquifer. In North Spokane, wells must sink 200 feet to hit the clean, fresh water.
In the last few months, Ty Wick and researchers from CH2M Hill have mapped and measured the aquifer as never before.
They have found a 200-foot underground waterfall roughly at the intersection of Northwest Boulevard and Ash Street in downtown Spokane.
They have charted the actual flow of water to dozens of wells.
Most important of all, the latest research suggests this source of virtually all the drinking water in the metropolitan area still remains very, very sparkling and clean.
Cleaner, in all likelihood, than most bottled water on the shelves.
A quart of bottled water cost about $1.
The base price for 750 gallons of aquifer-fresh water from Water District 3 is 89 cents.
With a nudge from federal clean water legislation and knowing it will be much cheaper in the long run to protect Spokane’s water supply now rather than try to clean it up once it becomes polluted, the little water districts have banded together to try to force some political action.
They have studied the aquifer.
Soon, they will have mapped all the known sources of pollution above it.
Then, Wick will go to city and county government and ask, politely, for ordinances and regulations designed to protect the underground water from future pollution.
That would mean telling developers and business owners what they must do to minimize damage from chemicals that they might have on their property.
It could mean designating land near wells as being unsuitable for certain kinds of businesses.
Most of all, Wick will be asking political leaders to act before there is a crisis.
“Our clean water makes us unique in the nation,” Wick explained in his quiet voice. “The 17 little water districts just think there needs to be a higher level of protection at the wellheads where the water actually gets pumped.”
This voice needs to be heard.
Quietly doing the right thing now will avoid a whole lot of yelling later on should the sole source of Spokane’s drinking water become polluted.
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