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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane loosens outdoor water restrictions as river flow increases

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

Spokane city officials have loosened restrictions on how much water residents can use for their lawns as summer comes to a close and water levels rise in the Spokane River.

Level 2 drought response measures took hold in late July for the first time due to the Spokane River flowing below 1,000 cubic feet per second. Residents were asked to water lawns no more than twice a week for no longer than two hours at the time.

As water levels have increased above 1,000 cubic feet per second, the city’s drought response has dropped to Level 1, which takes place every summer from June 1 to Oct. 1. During this period, outdoor watering is not allowed between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and the watering of lawns is limited to four times a week.

There are exemptions to the restrictions, including for watering community gardens or trees, to establish newly planted landscaping, or to mitigate wildfire risk on a property. The Parks Department can request an exemption from the City Council, and the law states residents must seek permission from the Public Works and Utilities Department for an exemption.

However, there is no process currently in place to seek that exemption, so residents are able to use additional water for exempted purposes at their discretion, according to city spokeswoman Kirstin Davis.

The measures were passed by the City Council last June, though this was the first summer that Level 2 drought response measures were allowed to be implemented, Davis said.

“We’ve been doing education campaigns for years around water conservation, and the ordinance last year created a policy around it,” Davis said.

The Spokane River has dropped below 1,000 cubic feet per second almost every year since 2000, typically by late August, bottoming out between 600 and 900 cubic feet per second.

There are currently no penalties for noncompliance and no plans for them in the future.

Spokane County has been experiencing moderate drought since July 11, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.