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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Outdoor watering restrictions take effect after Spokane City Council overrides Woodward’s veto

The city of Airway Heights is asking residents and businesses to limit their water use both indoors and outside beginning Friday as it performs maintenance on a backup well.   (Spokesman-Review file photo )

The Spokane City Council voted Monday to override Mayor Nadine Woodward’s veto of an ordinance that, effective immediately, sets limits on when people can water outdoor vegetation at certain times in the summer.

Outdoor watering in the city from June 1 to Oct. 1 will only be permitted four days per week, with no watering allowed on those days from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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.

The City Council approved the limits with a 5-2 vote May 24 as a water conservation and drought response measure to protect the Spokane River and the city’s water supply, the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.

Council President Breean Beggs said the ordinance is now in effect with the override of the veto.

“It’s simply setting a normal of what we expect from each other in Spokane around water usage. It’s common sense,” Councilman Zack Zappone said. “When there’s a drought, we don’t water on the hottest part of the day. We don’t water every day. We water every other day. It’s simply just don’t be wasteful.”

While acknowledging that she supports water conservation, Woodward vetoed the ordinance out of concern the legislation will promote neighbors snitching on other neighbors. She is also concerned with the possible penalties that may come with the restriction at a later date, having said that she would prefer a system that somehow incentivizes residents for saving water.

Ordinance violations over the next 18 months, at least, will not incur any penalties or consequences, as city officials have expressed a desire to educate the public during this period.

Following that 18-month grace period, the ordinance provides that council members and the Public Works and Utilities Department can explore potential enforcement measures, such as surcharges. The ordinance outlines a specific time from Dec. 1, 2023, to May 1, 2024, for this discussion to take place.

“My position has been, and will continue to be, to offer incentives where we can rather than penalties,” Woodward wrote in a letter to council prior to the May 24 vote.

The council overrode the veto with a 5-1 vote, with Councilman Michael Cathcart opposed. Cathcart and Councilman Jonathan Bingle, who was absent from Monday’s meeting, voted against the ordinance in May.

“The fact is there’s a lot more people we can affect with incentives than with mandates. In fact, there’s thousands and thousands of users who these mandates will have zero effect on because they’re outside the city,” Cathcart said. “They won’t reduce their water usage and the rest of the city is subsidizing that, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Beggs said he would love to see the city administration propose an incentive program.

“At the end of 2023, when we’re doing water rates and looking at all that, we can see what worked and what doesn’t,” he said.

Part of the ordinance requires the city’s Water Department to provide education and community engagement to all water rate payers in the city’s retail water delivery area.

Beggs said that should involve utility bill inserts and water department staff going out and educating the public.

“With the mayor, if we take her at her word that she wants to do that education, she needs to instruct her staff and administration to do that,” Beggs said, “and if they need more money to do that, we’re ready.”

As part of the ordinance, additional measures will 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.

These emergency measures, on top of the 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. watering ban, 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.