Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Drought in the City

by Lindsey Desmul, Drought Response Specialist, Northwest Regional Office

While summer is drawing to a close and the crisp, cool weather of fall is returning, we are still in the midst of the worst drought in state history. Because of the large storage areas and conservation measures taken by municipal water suppliers, it can seem like cities have an endless supply of water. The ability to turn on the tap and magically have water is a modern-day miracle most of us take for granted. But customers can feel disconnected from their water source, and this can make it hard to understand the difficulties our state is facing during this record-setting drought.

Cities such as Seattle, Everett, and Tacoma are still calling for a 10% reduction in water usage from its customers, and Seattle residents are setting a great example. They have taken the city’s call for conservation seriously and reduced water consumption to levels below average. The graph (at the end of this blog) shows Seattle’s average 7-day water consumption as of September 8 and historically.

But we all need to do more to conserve water.

Why conserve municipal water?

Did you know that only 1 percent of earth’s water supply is drinkable?

In Washington, where we are surrounded by large rivers fed by glacial ice and snow melt, water seems abundant. However, our warmer and drier winter led to a severe lack of snow melt going into rivers. Just weeks ago the entire state was classified as being in a “severe drought.”

This has impacted our state in many ways, such as limiting recreational opportunities like fishing and skiing. This not only reduces our fun but affects our state economy. More than 1 million people go fishing in Washington each year, bringing in a total of $1.1 billion annually from sport fishing alone. Likewise, winter tourism added $348 million to the state’s economy in 2009/2010, employing more than 6,000 people.

The drought is also decreasing our hydroelectric capabilities. Currently, hydroelectricity accounts for more than 60 percent of Washington’s power source! If the drought continues, dirtier and more expensive fossil-fuels will have to be used, increasing pollution (especially in larger cities) and costing each energy customer more money. Higher prices for dirtier fuel? No thanks!

In places like Everett, where Spada Lake is already showing impacts of this year’s drought, the growing stress may put municipal supplies in danger if the drought continues into next summer. Shallow domestic wells have begun to go dry in locations such as the Yakima Valley and the Startup Water District, and populations in these and other smaller communities may need to begin purchasing water from a municipal supply.

In Seattle, the municipal water system relies on water from the Cedar and Tolt River reservoirs. If we continue to experience low snowpack years, the water flowing into the reservoirs is expected to decline by 6 percent per decade during the hot summer months. That decline will be magnified by the city’s population growth, which is currently the highest it’s been since the Gold Rush! How much water is available in the municipal supply depends largely on the customers themselves and the conservation measures taken.

Start conserving water now for the future

People use more water in the summer season when gardens and grass are thirsty, but this is also the time when water conservation is most important. Outdoor water use in the summer months can be as high as 70 percent of our total water use, and up to 50 percent of that water is wasted from inefficient watering methods! Instead of struggling to keep those lawns green during the hottest months of the year, consider
Dormant lawn in August
Photo by Ecoyards

letting them go dormant
. Depending on the type of grass in your yard, many dormant lawns only require ½ inch of water every two weeks to stay alive. That means that if the average American lawn was allowed to go dormant, the amount of water conserved could supply a family of 4 with drinking water for over 34 years!

This winter is expected to be warmer and drier than normal due to the lasting effects of El NiƱo and the infamous blob on our Pacific Ocean shores. Following last year’s winter of low snow pack, the effects of another drought could be life-altering for Washington state residents. If we all make changes now in how we use water, we can avoid the complications of another dry summer. So when you see news articles and public service announcements about water conservation in cities, pay close attention – every little bit of water saved can mean a lot for our future.

Courtesy of Seattle Public Utilities. As of Sept. 8, 2015

1 comment:

Mike Petersen said...

This is really good! It would be great to see something like this for eastern Washington, and Spokane in particular. Here in Spokane we rely on a sole source aquifer and using it too heavily impacts the Spokane River.