Friday, April 15, 2016

Water: Is there enough for people, farms and fish?

By Brook Beeler, communications

Although 70 percent of the planet is water only one percent of that is accessible for drinking. Globally, one in six people don’t have access to clean water sources, according to the United Nations.

In Washington we are fortunate to have access to clean, fresh water. We at the Washington Department of Ecology are responsible for managing a water supply for more than 7 million Washingtonians. To meet all our water needs. That supply comes from precipitation and snowpack, groundwater and more than 70,000 miles of rivers and streams.

We’re committed to meeting the state’s water needs now and ensuring water is available in the future for people, farms and fish. That takes careful, thoughtful management.

Water in Washington belongs to all of us. But that doesn’t mean that just anyone can dig a well or divert water from a stream for use. Water rights or certificates are required for business, industry, farming – even domestic use. They define where, how and how much water may be put to use.

Washington law also requires that Ecology honor those water users who came first, which presents a real challenge when trying to manage water for future growth.

What if all the water is spoken for or claimed?

How do we ensure there is enough available for all needs, including the environment?

We can’t “manufacture” new water. We can only protect what we’ve got, use it more wisely and find ways to share it across the “boundaries” of seemingly competing interests – domestic drinking water, environmental protection and agriculture and industry.

Water management

There are a few tools in the water resource management tool box.

Across the state we are exploring technical solutions for making water available to cities for future growth, seeking new storage, releasing water from dams when fish need it most and enhancing fish passage. In central Washington our Office of Columbia River has even delivered water to farmers in the Odessa where aquifers are declining.

Water banking makes water available for new uses including increasing stream flows to protect habitat and providing water for development. Water rights can be traded between willing buyers and sellers to achieve the goal of moving water to where it’s needed most.

Reclaimed water is an important component of wise water management and part of our strategy to extend our water resources. Reclaiming or recycling water from some other process like wastewater treatment gives water a new life in new uses.

Reclaimed water is typically used for irrigation and other non-drinking water purposes.

You can make a difference too

Individually we can all do our part to help ensure reliable water supplies. Water efficiency is the smart use of water through water-saving technologies and small actions we can take around the house.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, American households waste 1.25 trillion gallons of water each year! Water is wasted through inefficient or leaky fixtures and improper outdoor water use.

It’s easier than you think to be water smart. EPA’s WaterSense program offers tips and tricks and even a labeling program that identifies high-efficiency products or services that help you reduce water use.

It can be as easy as:
  • Fixing a leak! Household leaks waste 10,000 gallons each year. That’s like doing 270 extra loads of laundry.
  • Showering better. Choose a WaterSense labeled shower head and save an estimated $70 in energy and water costs each year.
  • Sprucing up your sprinklers. Timing is everything! Don’t set it and forget it, when watering with an irrigation system you can waste up to 50% more water. Make seasonal adjustments to avoid waste.

Since water belongs to all of us in Washington, it’s up to us. Together we can use water responsibly to help ensure sustainable water supplies now and for future generations.

Earth Day every day

Earth Day is Friday, April 22. (And every day is a good day to inspire better habits for the environment!) In the next two weeks, we’ll have additional blog posts about our work and how you can help protect the earth! 

Find it all on our social media channels by searching #EarthPassItOn.

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