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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane aims high to lower flow: Council urges residents, businesses to cut water use to preserve the supply

UPDATED: Mon., July 27, 2020

A sprinkler spits out water in a Spokane yard in the evening in July 2008.  (RAJAH BOSE/Spokesman-Review)
A sprinkler spits out water in a Spokane yard in the evening in July 2008. (RAJAH BOSE/Spokesman-Review)

It may have been difficult to hear over the spit-spit-spit of sprinklers splashing water over lush, green lawns on a dry and hot summer day.

But the Spokane City Council unanimously called Monday for the city’s businesses, residents and institutions to reduce their water usage, in a bid to protect the water supply that lies below and the infrastructure that pumps it into thousands of Spokane homes.

The City Council adopted a new water conservation master plan that aims to stem increases in water usage even as the city grows in population and lower water usage during the peak summer season.

By 2030, the plan calls for a 5% per-capita reduction in water usage, which would save the city 500 million gallons of water over the next decade.

The plan lacked the ambition called for by some environmental advocates, a sentiment with which council members sympathized.

“It doesn’t go nearly far enough, and everyone agrees,” said City Council President Breean Beggs.

The conservation plan approved on Monday was the culmination of more than a year of planning by the city’s Water Department, and framed by council members on Monday as a “first step.”

“We have so much more to do. As a city we need to set an example,” said Councilwoman Lori Kinnear.

The council’s action includes the formation of the Water Resource Collaboration Group, which will make a series of recommendations for an updated master plan. The plan will be reviewed and adjusted after its first year and every five years moving forward.

Beggs said the revised version should address drought conditions and set more ambitious goals for a reduction in outdoor watering.

It is not the first time the city has laid out goals for water conservation, but the plan represents a broad map for action.

The city of Spokane pumps its water supply from the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, a 10-trillion gallon water supply that lies under about 370 square miles of land in Washington and Idaho.

Though it is primarily replenished by the Spokane River and remains plentiful, the plan notes that the aquifer is not “inexhaustible.”

According to the United States Geological Survey, the average American person uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water per day, compared to 202 gallons by the average Spokanite.

If the city’s population uses water faster and more voluminously than the city can pump it, Spokane would have to invest in costly new infrastructure.

The new master plan hopes to cut water use year round, particularly during the high-demand summer months, which can strain the city’s water infrastructure.

But city leaders don’t expect people to change their behavior without a little push.

City staff are expected to engage with the highest water users and offer technical assistance to people looking to cut back.

The city expects to issue thousands of rebates per year to water users who invest in measures to reduce their water use, such as purchasing a low-flow shower head or high-efficiency sprinkler nozzle.

The replacement of 1,100 toilets with high-efficiency models – supported by a city rebate – would save an estimated 2 million gallons of water each year, according to the plan.

Kristen Zimmer, the city’s conservation coordinator, told the council on Monday that the city is prepared to announce rebates upon the plan’s adoption. A list of the available rebates can be found on the city’s website, where residential and multifamily homeowners can apply.

The rebates program is budgeted to cost the city $214,000 in each of its first five years.

Councilwoman Kate Burke voted in favor of the plan, but said there had not been a “holistic conversation around it” that involved key stakeholders.

“There’s a lot of more we could do in this plan,” Burke said.

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