It’s a cold, dreary, rainy “June-uary” Friday, and I’m sitting here obsessing about summer water limits in Vashon’s Water District 19. I suppose I’m one of the few Islanders who appreciates June rainfall. I like rain even more in July, August and September. Because when it rains in the summertime, Islanders don’t water their grass, landscaping or crops as much. And that means your water district is more likely to be able to come up with enough water to meet your peak day demand.
As you all probably know by now, the number of customers we can serve is limited by the projected peak day demand of our customers coupled with the district’s maximum daily pumping capacity. Vashon’s recent historic peak day demand (established in 2004) is about 650 gallons per residence per day (almost one million gallons per day). The district’s present peak day capacity, limited by low summer stream flows and the maximum sustainable capacity at our well field, is only about 500 gallons per residence per day (850,000 gallons per day). Hence my obsession.
Among the unsustainable things done to try to meet peak demand in the past, the district ran up the pumping rate from our well field beyond what we now know to be the maximum sustainable limit. The result was to prematurely ruin the well (requiring a $500,000 investment in a new deep well in 2005). We cannot be responsible stewards of your safety and your money and let that happen again.
We are hopeful that by the summer dry season, our new Beall well is online and able to produce enough water to fill about half of the potential gap between maximum capacity and historic peak demand. We are looking into reconfiguring the pumping system at our reserve tank so more of that water can be safely used to satisfy short-term high demand. We are also trying to transfer rights for a small amount of pumping from our main well field — which cannot produce as much as we have rights to — to a smaller capacity well that we already own.
But all those actions combined could still leave us unable to meet the kinds of demands we faced as recently as 2004. In which case, we would have to institute restrictions on summer water usage for non-essential purposes.
So what more can be done to ensure that summer demand doesn’t exceed capacity? And, can we ever get to the point where we can envision making water available to many of the customers on the waiting list for 300 water service units?
I’ve told you some of the things we’re trying to do at the district. There are also things you can do. Limit your summer grass-watering, especially on dry, hot weekends when Island-wide watering may be at its highest. And consider that brown grass in the summer is kind of natural anyway — the green will return when the rains return.
You might consider the use of rain barrels to capture some of the rain that comes off your roof in the rainy season for watering your plants in the dry season. The water district is offering a $20 rebate when you purchase a rain barrel from an Island retailer. This won’t solve the problem, but a couple hundred rain barrels might just let someone long waiting for a water service unit to get a connection, some of whom have been waiting for more than 10 years.
If you have an in-ground landscape irrigation system, the district has found considerable savings can be accomplished by obtaining a professional irrigation audit. And don’t forget, the district also offers rebates for replacing old toilets and washing machines with water-saving models.
For more information on these and other water conservation ideas, check the conservation newsletter from Water District 19 in your next bill, and go to www.savingwater.org/index.htm.
In the longer term, I’m encouraging the state Department of Ecology to delineate its water code in a way that permits greater amounts of rainwater harvesting for irrigation through the use of cisterns to collect larger amounts of winter rain. Making it legal to “time shift” more of the water that falls plentifully in the winter to use in the dry season could help us meet the demand of our present customers and get at least some of the folks off the waiting list. I’ll let you know when I think some public pressure might help in this effort.
The bottom line is that conservation will save you money, allow us to meet peak demand, save on future infrastructure costs and maybe even get some people off of our waiting list.
— Steve Haworth is a commissioner for King County Water District 19.