Snoqualmie prepares for dry summer ahead

SNOQUALMIE - With water worries afoot, not even the recent parade of storms can cheer up Snoqualmie Public Works Director Kirk Holmes.

Since Gov. Christine Gregoire declared a drought emergency on March 10, the public utilities expert has been crafting a drought response plan, which he will submit to the Snoqualmie City Council for action at its April 11 meeting.

Holmes wouldn't spill the specific details of the plan just yet, but said drinking water and water for fire services would take precedent over other uses.

"If supplies are not sufficiently available, then we'll have to take certain actions to make sure supplies are secure," Holmes said. "We need to focus on safe drinking water and water for fire protection. Irrigation and water for construction purposes are not really as important as keeping water in reservoirs and for fire protection."

The 37-page response plan will serve as an amendment to the existing 2004 Comprehensive Water System Plan. It will detail how the city can conserve its potable (drinkable) water supply and what steps to take if the conservation flounders.

Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher said because Snoqualmie has a Class A (treated waste water) system that is used for irrigation purposes, the city will fare better than many other municipalities. However, the fairly dry winter and thirsty aquifers will create some water issues this year.

"We are starting our warnings to the citizens earlier than needed in order to encourage our citizens to conserve water now in any way possible," Fletcher said. "The more we conserve now, the more we will have later in the hotter parts of the year."

Fletcher said actions like using the car wash with recirculating water instead of washing your car on the street or watering your garden during the evening hours for less evaporation are things people can be doing now to cut down on water wastage.

"Anything like this will help us all in the long run. It is going to take more then a few days of rain to get us back to where we should be," Fletcher said.

Snoqualmie has two water sources, a spring and a well field. Holmes fears the well field may be impacted by the lack of aquifer recharge. The snow pack in the mountains affects the North Fork of the Snoqualmie River, which in turn affects the spring.

"We're very concerned about the lack of snow pack in the mountains and the effect that may have on our ability to supply water," Holmes said. "There's no water in the mountains to speak of."

Snoqualmie typically uses about 2 million gallons of water each day during the summer months with irrigation (including lawn/garden watering) accounting for 1.5 million of that, Holmes said.

"We need to make an effort to educate and spread awareness as far as conservation efforts go," Holmes said. "There's nothing we can actually point a finger at and say, ah, this is where all the water's going. If there's not enough water ... it's like writing a check against a bank account with no money in it."

The public works department is presently working on some short-term measures such as utilizing well No. 1, an emergency well. This would allow another 400 gallons per minute to be available to residents. The city hasn't had to use well No. 1 in some time, but given the proclamation of drought, they are starting to prepare it for use now.

"We don't always bring it on line in the summer because it's expensive to operate," Holmes said.

Despite the serious state of things, Holmes said the pending water use regulations won't be strictly enforced, but will be strongly encouraged.

"If it continues, we'll move from stage one to stage two; we might set up watering restrictions," Holmes said. Stage two, however, could also mean restrictions on use of water for construction purposes and filling up swimming pools.

But rules on when to water your lawn will probably be about as severe as it gets, said Holmes, who believes that when the time comes, residents of Snoqualmie will do their part.

"People are smart. They already know what they can do to save water," Holmes said. "Even if it means just turning off the hose that's running free. Generally, people will do what they need to do."

Thankfully, there are landscaping techniques people can use that require little moisture. Drought tolerant grass and shrubs are available at many nurseries. Gravel and beauty bark are also attractive alternatives to grass and plants.

But if things seem tough, Snoqualmie's water woes are nothing compared to those of Seattle, which relies solely on rain and snow pack for its water supply. Seattle has only received about 14 percent of what it normally averages in precipitation - and that isn't even likely to reach the reservoir, Holmes said.

"All the storms we've had recently don't mean a hill of beans. We'd have to have storms of epic proportions through July to be close to normal," Holmes said.

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