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Our water supply declines every year. Let’s conserve!

Grande Ronde Aquifer level

Grande Ronde Aquifer level, measured in relation to sea level, WSU test well. Source: Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee

Here’s a statistic every resident of Pullman and Moscow should know: One foot per year. That is how much our primary groundwater supply is dropping. That’s why conserving water should be a top priority for anyone concerned about the future of communities in the Palouse region of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.

It used to be worse. The water levels in the Grande Ronde aquifer have been declining by an average of 1.3 feet per year for 50 years or more, although the decline in recent years has averaged .9 feet. But with population growing, and alternate supplies of water hard to come by and very expensive, there’s reason to be vigilant. So please do your part, and encourage our cities, universities and businesses to take leadership on the water issue, too.

Time is of the essence in solving our water problems

Murf Raquet, for the editorial board
Moscow-Pullman Daily News
December 9,

Water use on the Palouse is a balancing act and has been for years. That’s a simple fact of life in this semi-arid region.
Scientists, politicians, engineers, conservationists and others have studied our water and its sources for years and have concluded we are using the resource faster than it is being replenished. One study even determined the aquifer from which the greatest volume of water is drawn has dropped one foot a year since the 1930s.

Palouse cities and universities have made positive strides to reduce their water consumption, but that remains only a delay tactic. We continue to reduce our water supply held in the aquifers.

No one knows for sure how long that supply will last. Some educated guesses have been made but certainly nothing to bet a community’s future on.

Despite all the positive attributes that make the Palouse a quality home for tens of thousands, the area would be scrub land without water and a way to reach it.

Growth has been a political buzzword during election cycles. Economists and others see it as essential to the survival of communities. And therein lies some of the problem – we have ways to preserve our water resources, but will we have enough to meet the demands of growth?

For most residents, stagnation is not an option.

The idea of building reservoirs has been bandied about for years. As recent as last week, water retention structures were a topic at a Moscow City Council workshop.

It makes sense to want to catch and impound some of the billions of gallons of water that falls annually on the Palouse.

Small ponds and catchments have dotted the Palouse for years and have proven valuable in the summer when rain is nearly nonexistence.

In contrast, the council workshop dealt with much larger ways to catch and retain surface water. Options discussed included several reservoir plans on or around Moscow Mountain, which would take advantage of natural drainages, and pipelines to bring water from the Snake River.

The common denominator among the options is expense – in the tens of millions of dollars kind of expense – enough for most to put any plans on the back burner.

But that’s not where they belong. We need to face reality and get ready for the day we need reservoirs or pipelines.

As expensive as any solution may be, it would be more so if we had to do it fast.


Pullman should use Moscow’s irrigation rules

Meredith Metsker, for the editorial board
Moscow-Pullman Daily News
December 2, 2013

As the city of Pullman works to finalize its new 2013 water conservation plan, we believe the largest city and largest user of water on the Palouse should utilize a couple suggestions from its neighbor across the border.

Since Pullman’s last water conservation plan was drafted in 2008, the city has made strides in reducing its water usage through programs like the low-flow toilet rebate program, and offering free water-conserving devices, like faucet aerators and leak detection dye tablets.

In its new plan, the city looks to expand the toilet rebate program, develop a new water-efficient washing machine rebate program and continue offering the free water-conserving devices. The plan will also include two new programs, water use surveys and lawn removal credits.

We commend the city for its planning and the Pullman residents for their eager response to the water conservation effort.

However, we feel Pullman could further its efforts even more by incorporating some ideas from Moscow’s water conservation movement. Recently, both Julie Titone, of the Palouse Water Conservation Network, and Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney expressed hope Pullman’s new water conservation plan might include an irrigation ordinance similar to the one in Moscow that requires residents to water their lawns during the cooler hours of the evening during irrigation season. The method reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation during the hottest times of the day.

Perhaps Pullman doesn’t need to propose an ordinance right away, but we believe that at the very least, the city should work to educate its residents (and businesses) about the wastefulness of watering lawns during the hottest hours of summer days. It’s a simple change that could make a big difference.

Being the largest consumer of water in the region, Pullman has a responsibility to be aggressive in its efforts to conserve, along with Moscow, University of Idaho, Washington State University, Colfax and Palouse.

The irrigation restrictions seem to be working for Moscow. Why not try it in Pullman?

New water plan has a familiar look to it

By Bill McKee, staff writer
Moscow-Pullman Daily News
November 30, 2013 

The city of Pullman is planning to continue relying on what has worked for it in the past as it updates its water conservation plan.

The city’s last water conservation plan, developed in 2008 to meet the requirements of the state Department of Health’s 2007 Water Use Efficiency Rule, relied heavily on a toilet rebate program, along with free water-conserving devices, such as faucet aerators and leak detection dye tablets.

Those programs managed to reduce water consumption in the city from about 291 per capita gallons per day in 2004-06 to 230 gallons per day in 2013, a reduction of 6.9 percent, said Ben Floyd of Anchor QEA, an environmental and engineering consulting firm hired to update the city’s plan.

“Our original goal in 2008 was to save 40,353 gallons per day. Currently, in terms of savings so far, the city will be at a little over 35,000 gallons per day by the end of 2013,” Floyd said.

In the new plan, Floyd said an additional 28,183 gallons per day are hoped to be saved by 2019 through an expanded version of the toilet rebate program, a new water-efficient washing machine rebate program and the continued offer for the same free water-conservation devices from the 2008 plan. The plan also includes two new programs, water use surveys and lawn removal credits, through which they hope to gain some additional savings.

With the popularity of the toilet rebate program during the past six years, Pullman Maintenance and Operations Superintendent Art Garro said he’s not surprised it’s being expanded in the future plan.

“The rebate program has been by far the single most popular since we started six years ago. We’re still getting about the same number of applications now as we did in the beginning,” Garro said.

The program allows Pullman residents and businesses to switch out an old toilet with a low-flush model to be eligible for up to a $125 rebate.

The continued use of programs offering free water saving devices, which combined have saved nearly double what the toilet rebate program did, is also no surprise.

And these programs are the only ones for which savings can actually be quantified.

Other unquantifiable aspects of the 2008 plan being carried over into the new one include conservation pricing, with higher rates during the dry season, water efficient landscape management practices on city properties, customer bills that show consumptive history and other education efforts.

Despite the positive effects brought about by the city’s past plan – the amount of water consumed annually has dropped during the past decade by about 140 million gallons even with a growing populace – some people still say the update should include more measures.

Julie Titone, of the Palouse Water Conservation Network, said she believes the city’s new plan should also include an ordinance restricting irrigation in a manner similar to Moscow, which has an irrigation season when residents have to wait until the cooler hours of the evening in order to water their lawns.

It’s a sentiment that was echoed by many as Pullman accepted public comment in recent weeks on the proposed update, Floyd said.

Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney expressed her hope for such a measure in a letter to the Pullman Public Works Department last week.

“(A) conservation method that seems to be working well in Moscow, and that I hope Pullman will also consider, is an ordinance to establish a watering season and prohibit daytime watering loss by evaporation,” Chaney wrote.

Other programs that both Titone and Chaney expressed a desire to see were requirements for water-conserving landscape management, already required for developments on city-owned property, extended to commercial developments, and a joint public information effort and water conservation campaign involving all the entities that draw from the local aquifers.

“I would really like to see Pullman put its shoulder behind a regional public information effort. Pullman is the biggest user of water in the region and if they don’t get behind such an effort it’s probably not going to happen,” Titone said.

While he doesn’t think the city will be a part of the plan as it pushes ahead to 2019, Pullman’s Public Works Director Kevin Gardes said some of those ideas are not out of the realm of possibility.

“There has been some consideration for it and it may come to that at some point, but we’re trying to start off with an education approach first,” Gardes said. “A lot of these are steps in the right direction, but there will be a continual re-evaluation of these efforts through the years.”

The goals and measures outlined in the update will be included in Pullman’s overall water plan, expected to be reviewed by the Department of Health sometime during the spring of 2014. Once it has their approval, it will head to the Pullman City Council for a vote later in the summer.

To view a copy of the city’s proposed water conservation plan, click on this shortened link, http://goo.gl/3NNJzH. To learn more about the city’s water conservation rebate programs and free water conserving devices, along with the city’s educational information on the subject, go to this shortened link, http://goo.gl/319psr.

Bill McKee can be reached at (208) 883-4627, or by email to wmckee@dnews.com.

Deadline nears for comment on Pullman water plan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEveryone who values living on the Palouse and cares about the future of its communities should take an interest in Pullman’s proposed 2014-19 Pullman draft water plan. Comment will be taken until Nov. 22; it can be sent to Deputy Director of Public Works Clayton Forsmann. More information is available on the city’s website.

The proposed water plan contains some valuable steps, such as offering rebates for efficient washing machines in addition to the city’s successful toilet rebate program. It would give financial assistance to homeowners who want to replace water-hungry landscaping. It calls for improved landscape management practices on city property. But it does not call for a regional water conservation education campaign, which Pullman could promote through its involvement in the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee. It does not ban daytime lawn watering, despite the significant loss of water to evaporation during our hot summers. It does not require commercial property developers to use water-wise landscaping.

The region’s groundwater continues to drop. No one knows how long that water supply will last, but estimates are given in decades, not centuries. Pullman pumps more water than Moscow or either university. And the city’s population is growing. Pullman residents, urge the City Council to take strong action. After all, council members keep close tabs on the city’s money; our water supply is even more vital to the city’s future.

Author of ‘Drink Water – A history’ to keynote 2013 Palouse Basin Water Summit

James Salzman, Duke Law School professor and author of Drinking Water – A History, will given the keynote address at the 2013 Palouse Basin Water Summit.

The summit — important annual dialogue about the region’s precious and declining water supply — will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 1, from 4:30 to 8 p.m. at the SEL Event Center, 1825 Schweitzer Drive in Pullman. The public is invited.

In his book, Salzman examines humanity’s relationship with water—from globalization and social justice to terrorism and climate change—and how people have been wrestling with these problems for centuries.

Other presentations will include the annual “State of the Basin” report by the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee; an interactive dialogue about our water supply; a report on the Palouse Ground Water Basin Monitoring Well Project; a report on the cost of water infrastructure in Pullman and Moscow; and a “lessons learned” panel discussion about drought-tolerant landscaping.Registration is requested and can be done online at palousewatersummit.org.