Editorial: Water conservation on Vashon — It’s high time

Signs have popped up over the last week urging Islanders to conserve water. Some were put up by managers of Heights Water, when record temperatures were placing strains on the small system. Others were put up by King County Water District 19, the Island’s largest water purveyor, when last week’s power outage raised concerns about the district’s ability to keep its water flowing.

This prompted some queries by The Beachcomber. How is the Island doing right now in terms of water — during this, one of the driest summers in recent memory?

Interestingly, we’re doing all right, various water managers said. And of particular note is that District 19 — where water shortages have driven policy for several years — is faring well.

During a hot summer in 2004, usage peaked at 960,000 gallons per day, a disconcertingly high number for District 19, where water resources are limited. Last week, when temperatures soared, usage reached a high of 790,000 gallons a day, Jeff Lakin, District 19’s manager, said.

Lakin and others with the district say the lower number is due to one salient fact: Their customers are using less water. And it would seem to suggest that the district’s ongoing message about conservation — as well as policies to promote it — is working.

In the last few years, the district’s commissioners — with Steve Haworth leading the charge — have urged people to use less, noting that conservation is the cheapest, smartest and most efficient way to increase the district’s strained capacity. They could build more wells and other expensive infrastructure to address shortages, they noted, or they could encourage people to conserve. And to that end, they used both carrots (rebates for low-flow toilets and rain barrels, for instance) and sticks (a graduated rate structure that charges those who use more a higher price per gallon).

Heights Water also reports that customers are cooperating with its efforts. During last week’s hot stretch, Heights’ manager Mary Ann Stipp paid a personal visit to the district’s biggest users, asking that they conserve. All readily agreed, she said.

It’s good news that District 19’s efforts are apparently working and that Heights’ customers said they’d do their part. Other water companies — Burton and Gold Beach, for instance — also said customers are acting responsibly. But these good reports don’t mean it’s time to be profligate with water. The resource remains limited on Vashon, where a single aquifer provides this life-giving element. Climate change — and the more extreme and unpredictable weather patterns atmospheric changes are expected to herald — will likely put even more strains on our aquifer.

Instead, kudos to the water companies — and particularly District 19 — for urging conservation, and to those of us who have heard and responded. Brown grass and short showers are a small price to pay for our otherwise remarkably luxurious quality of life on Vashon Island.

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