Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 47° Cloudy

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. To learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column, click here.

Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Steven M. Busch: Upping water rates won’t protect aquifer

UPDATED: Mon., April 19, 2021

By Steven M. Busch

Last summer, at the behest of the Water Resource Collaboration Group and another unelected group of community activists called the Sustainability Action Subcommittee, the Spokane City Council unleashed a brand new tier-structured “Water Conservation Master Plan” designed to force area residents to reduce water usage by 25% over the next 10 years. These new directives are unnecessary, dangerous and potentially harmful to the environment.

The Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer (SVRP) is a unique and precious water resource. It deserves protection. Unfortunately, City Council members did not take the time to become familiar with basic aquifer facts before agreeing with these groups that Spokane residents use too much water.

The SVRP aquifer has an area of approximately 370 square miles and an estimated volume of 10 trillion gallons. The average daily in-flow (recharge) is estimated at 951 million gallons/day. The daily outflow (discharge) is estimated at 949 million gallons/day. The net daily “loss” is a mere 2 million gallons out of almost a billion gallons. To put those numbers into perspective, at the current rate it would take 1,300 years to reduce the volume of the aquifer from 10 trillion gallons to 9 trillion gallons.

The fact that the City Council is justifying fee increases for Spokane ratepayers in order to curb water use is based on a mistaken belief that overwatering our lawns is diminishing the resource and accelerating climate change. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The massive outflow of nearly one billion gallons per day from the SVRP aquifer is so close to what actually flows in that the difference equates to a proverbial drop in the bucket.

The council’s plan is dangerous because it emphasizes a reduction in green space around our homes and neighborhoods. Council President Breean Beggs blames residents for planting flowers and shrubs that really aren’t suited for Spokane and for watering lawns in order to keep everything green. According to Beggs, “Adapting our landscaping somewhat to what our climate is here in Spokane, you can have real beautiful landscaping that was meant to be here and is much cheaper for you. It looks better and is much cheaper for the entire environment.”

Spokane’s natural landscape, the one Beggs says was “meant to be here,” is comprised of native grasses, brush and pine trees that are well adapted to our region’s annual fire seasons. Fire marshals warn area residents to keep the natural vegetation trimmed back and create a fire-resistant zone around our homes. Providing green space in the form of lawns helps protect us and our neighbors from wildfires that readily consume the natural vegetation. Following Beggs’ advice will only lead to more dangerous fires requiring even more water to extinguish.

The City Council’s plan is also potentially damaging to the environment. Granted, the overuse of harsh chemicals to keep lawns green and weed-free can and should be reduced wherever possible. However, there are multiple environmental benefits to maintaining a green lawn.

Lawns absorb and filter runoff while making water less acidic compared to water running off a hard surface. Lawns capture dust, smoke and other air pollutants. Lawns cool the local environment and act as a carbon sink. Lawns provide habitat for a wide variety of organisms that feed a diverse assortment of wildlife and birds. Lawns control erosion and stabilize the soil. Lawns reduce the heat island effect of asphalt and concrete and can lower ambient temperatures by 20% to 30%. A lawn with an area of 50’ x 50’ can produce enough oxygen to meet the daily needs for a family of 4.

If the council’s goal is to protect the aquifer, and especially the Spokane River, then instead of punishing ratepayers, maybe they should concentrate on cleaning up some of the homeless camps along the Spokane River. Fecal matter, drug paraphernalia and trash accumulating along and in the river is an environmental and public safety hazard far more concerning to Spokane residents than how much water their neighbor is using on their lawn.

Steven M. Busch lives in Mead.

Editor’s note: This article has been expanded and altered from the print version.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.