Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward vetoed an ordinance on Thursday that would restrict city residents and businesses from watering lawns and outdoor plants during certain hours from June through September.
Approved by the Spokane City Council last week, the ordinance would prohibit watering from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 1 to Oct. 1 starting later this month. Watering during those months also would be limited to four days per week.
The measures were based on recommendations presented to the City Council by the city’s Water Resource Collaboration Group, which formed in 2020 after Spokane officials adopted a water conservation plan aimed at reducing usage by 5% over the decade.
Woodward acknowledged her veto is likely “ceremonial” given an expected City Council override.
The City Council needs five votes to override Woodward’s veto. The legislation passed last week with a 5-2 vote.
“I think if you want to change people’s behavior, the best way to do that is through incentives, not penalties,” she said. “And I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t want to create a community where our neighbors are snitching on other neighbors as we come out of the pandemic.”
There would be no consequences or penalties for any violations for at least the next 18 months, with council members keen on first educating residents on the changes before considering modes of enforcement.
Once that grace period ends, however, it’s unclear what the penalties for violating the rules might be. Per the ordinance, council members and the Public Works and Utilities Department can explore potential enforcement measures, such as surcharges, during a specific period of time from Dec. 1, 2023, to May 1, 2024.
Council President Breean Beggs said he imagines the council at that time will rely on the city’s Water Department to advise members on “what they think is needed to get better compliance.” Whether that’s surcharges, penalties or other means, that’s undetermined at this time.
“My prediction is that we’ll probably continue to use the rate structure to get compliance as opposed to penalties and surcharges,” he said. “One of the reasons for that is if you’re doing penalties, then you have to have water police people and then pay for them to do that, but if you put it in the water rate, it’s just a self-perpetuating system.”
The ordinance provides as-needed exemptions for Spokane Parks and Recreation for reasons including the maintenance of recreational facilities and mitigating wildfire risk. Exceptions are also allowed for people watering vegetable gardens and trees, mitigating fire risk and preserving newly planted landscaping.
Should the council override the veto, the ordinance would take effect later this month.
Council members will consider an override measure during their next meeting Monday, said Beggs, who was among the five council members to approve the ordinance last month.
He and three others reached for comment Thursday – Zack Zappone, Betsy Wilkerson and Karen Stratton – said they planned to vote in favor of the override. Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who was a driving force behind the ordinance, did not return a request for comment.
“We have to think about more than our patch of grass because it’s all interconnected,” Wilkerson said. “We’re not just going to operate in a vacuum.”
Beggs said he believes Woodward is “imagining” the gripes she has with the legislation.
“There’s nothing in this ordinance that would have one neighbor report on another neighbor or investigations or water police or penalties,” he said. “There’s just nothing in there that does that, so I don’t understand where she’s coming from, but she obviously has the right to veto it and we have the right to override it.”
Supporters have praised the ordinance as an effort to address drought and protect the Spokane River ecosystem and the city’s water supply, the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.
Critics have taken issue with how the city would rely on neighbors to report possible violations.
“I’m all about conservation, so don’t get me wrong,” Woodward said. “I’m all about educating, increasing awareness on what we can be doing, watering every other day, watering outside the hottest hours of the day and all that, but the penalty part of it and creating neighborhoods where people are looking out for each other in a negative way, that’s not the community I want to live in.”
The legislation includes additional measures that would kick in next year to allow the mayor and City Council to implement emergency watering restrictions any time between June 1 and Oct. 1 when Spokane River flows are predicted to fall below 1,000 cubic feet per second.
On top of the 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. watering ban, these restrictions would limit properties to watering two days per week at a rate of two hours per day and a prohibition on using water to wash sidewalks, driveways, decks and other hardscape elements.
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