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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane seeks input on water conservation plan that some call ‘first step,’ others call inadequate

UPDATED: Fri., May 29, 2020

A sprinkler spits out water in a Spokane yard in the evening in this 2008 photo. A new water conservation plan being considered by the city would use rebates and financial incentives to cut water use in the city by up to 5% by 2030, but some are arguing that plan doesn’t go far enough. (Rajah Bose / The Spokesman-Review)
A sprinkler spits out water in a Spokane yard in the evening in this 2008 photo. A new water conservation plan being considered by the city would use rebates and financial incentives to cut water use in the city by up to 5% by 2030, but some are arguing that plan doesn’t go far enough. (Rajah Bose / The Spokesman-Review)

The city of Spokane will accept feedback through Monday on a proposed plan to save water that is intended to be a first step toward more substantive measures, but that conservation groups are criticizing as inadequate.

The Spokane City Council requested the proposal after initiating efforts to more closely monitor sale of water supplies beyond city limits.

Questions about that practice were raised after groundwater contamination caused the city of Airway Heights to shut off supplies from wells near Fairchild Air Force Base in 2017 and begin buying Spokane water under what city officials called an outdated agreement.

Using rebates on utility bills for the purchase of water-saving technology, drought-resistant landscaping and operational changes on city-owned land, the plan estimates an annual reduction of water use totaling up to 20 million gallons, at a cost of a little more than a half-million dollars to the city per year.

“It’s a foundation. It’s a start,” said City Council President Breean Beggs. “We have a lot more work to do, but with a modest investment we can see a 5% reduction in water use in 10 years.”

But some are pushing the city to go further and match the conservation efforts seen in some other cities in the West. Jerry White Jr., Spokane Riverkeeper, said any conservation plan needs to include stronger guidance on steps the city should take when river flows drop to 2015-like drought levels.

“The current plan lacks ambitious goals,” White said. “It’s not very ambitious, especially when you look at other plans across the West.”

The city of Spokane receives its water from the below-ground aquifer, which is recharged by flows in the area’s waterways. Chief among those is the Spokane River.

White pointed to Salt Lake City as a model of what a conservation plan should look like. That plan includes contemplation of a water rate structure that would charge a base rate based on consumption, an idea that White said could change behavior as people start to see the economic effects of sustained heavy use.

“I think the community really does value water, but I think they don’t understand that when it comes out of your tap or your house, it really is competing with the river’s existence,” White said.

Spokane’s water rates have been set through the end of the year as part of an agreement between the previous City Council and Mayor David Condon’s administration to cap rate increases at 2.9%. City water customers are charged a base fee for water based on a size and use classification, but that base rate is not dependent upon how much water the customer uses, as it would be in a tiered system. Customers are charged an additional amount based on use, however. That charge appears on your city bill under the header “Water Consumption.”

Beggs said the conversation on next year’s water rates would begin soon, having been delayed briefly due to the change in city operations because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said those rates would be handled separately from the discussion about the water conservation plan.

The city will accept public comment on the plan, which can be viewed on the city’s website, through Monday, with council action expected sometime later in June.

Additionally, the city is accepting applications for what it’s calling its Water Resource Collaboration Group. That team of volunteers would be responsible for shaping additional water conservation measures for city consideration. Applications for that group are being accepted through June 21. That form also can be found online.

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