WATER WARS: A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

The Spokane City council recently unleashed a comprehensive master plan designed to force area residents to reduce our total water usage by 25% in the next 10 years by increasing fees and regulations. The plan is unnecessary, dangerous, and potentially harmful to the environment. Here’s why:

The Spokane area derives it’s water from the Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer (SVRP).  Our aquifer is indeed a very special water source, and is deserving of protection. Reducing our water usage is unnecessary because nearly all of the water that residents take out of the aquifer for drinking, flushing our toilets, bathing, washing our cars, or watering our lawns, returns to the aquifer. 

The SVRP Atlas (2009 update) presents a synopsis of all of the aquifer studies initiated by the Idaho Department of Water Resources, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Geological Survey utilizing federal funding through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state funding allocated through both the Idaho and Washington legislatures.  It would be very beneficial if the Spokane City Council actually knew something about this amazing water resource rather than using their limited knowledge to practice social engineering.

FACT: The SVRP aquifer is ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE having an estimated volume of at least 10 trillion gallons!   The daily average in-flow to the aquifer is estimated at 951 million gallons/day.  The outflow is estimated at 949 million gallons/day.  The net daily “loss” is a mere 2 million gallons out of almost a billion gallons, which equates to a proverbial “drop in the bucket”. 

Size: 370 square miles
Volume: 10 trillion gallons.

Most of this “loss” is attributed to evaporation in the summer months predominantly through irrigation of residential lawns, agricultural crops, golf courses, and of course, all our beautiful parks. At current usage rates it would take over 1300 years to reduce the volume of the aquifer from 10 trillion gallons to 9 trillion gallons. While water is said to be “lost” through evaporation, which includes evaporation from all surface water bodies such as the Spokane River, Lake CDA, Lake Spokane, (Long Lake), and regional public pools, etc., water is never actually “lost”.  Water moves continuously through the water cycle, and does not simply disappear. Water never vanishes, it never gets used up, and is never “consumed”. Water always returns to the water cycle.  Our planet has the same amount of water today as it did 100 or 1000 years ago.  We haven’t lost any of it.

The fact that the City Council is justifying fee increases for Spokane rate payers “in order to curb water use” is based on deception, or a “false premise”, that somehow area residents are responsible for robbing the aquifer by over watering our lawns. We must pay for our sin of water gluttony. The City Council would have us believe that by watering our lawns and golf courses, greedy Spokane residents are stealing from other people across the rest of the state, or causing the deaths of countless millions in sub-Saharan Africa who are dying of dehydration. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The massive out flow of nearly one billion gallons per day from the SVRP aquifer is so close to what flows in, that the difference is negligible.

The plan is dangerous because it emphasizes a reduction in green space around our homes. City Council President Berean Beggs blames residents for planting flowers and shrubs that really aren’t suited for Spokane and for watering our lawns in order to keep everything green. Beggs says, “Adapting our landscaping somewhat to what our climate is here in Spokane, you can have real beautiful landscaping that was meant to be here and is much cheaper for you. It looks better and is much cheaper for the entire environment.”  

Note to Beggs… Spokane’s natural landscape, the one he says was “meant to be here”, is comprised of native grasses, brush, and pine trees well suited to regular fire seasons.  In other words, providing green spaces in the form of lawns and gardens around our homes keeps us all safer from fires that rampage through the natural vegetation when it dries out and becomes extremely flammable. Area Fire Marshals have been telling residents for decades to keep the natural vegetation trimmed back and create a fire resistant zone around our homes. Bark or other flammable material, including “natural” vegetation and native pine, is not a safe alternative to a lush green lawn.

And finally, the City Council’s plan is potentially damaging to the environment. Granted, the overuse of harsh chemicals to keep lawns green and weed free can, and should be reduced wherever possible. However, there are multiple environmental benefits to growing your own garden and maintaining a green lawn. 

Lawns absorb run off, filter water, and make water less acidic compared to water running off a hard surface. Lawns capture dust, smoke, and other air pollutants.  Lawns cool the local environment and act as a carbon sink.  Lawns provide habitat for a wide variety of organisms that feed a diverse assortment of wildlife and birds. Lawns control erosion and stabilize the soil. Lawns reduce the heat island effect of asphalt and concrete and can lower ambient temperatures by 20% to 30%.  

It has been estimated that a lawn with an area of 50’ x 50’ produces enough oxygen to meet the daily needs for a family of 4. If the Spokane City Council truly believes that their mission is to protect the health and well being of area residents, AND the environment, they would rethink their position on raising water usage rates in order to curb demand or promote replacing lawns with “natural” vegetation.

Unfortunately, the Spokane City Council seems to relish their role of shaming residents into believing that we are wasting more than “our fair share” of water. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that we live above one of the most bountiful sources of clean pure water on the planet. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that 99.9% of the water we use in or around our homes flows right back into the aquifer.  If the Council is really concerned about protecting our water resource, then instead of scheming to raise usage rates to fund pet projects, such as fluoridation, maybe they should concentrate on cleaning up some of the homeless camps along the Spokane River.

Sources for this article include:

Spokane county ranks in 98th percentile for water usage; City Council eager to change trend – KXLY

New Water Use Tier Structure – City of Spokane, Washington (spokanecity.org)

Benefits of Turfgrass Lawns | The Lawn Institute

Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer | Spokane County, WA

4 thoughts on “WATER WARS: A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

  1. I’m in California, and I keep praying my well doesn’t go dry. I keep hearing that the state wants to put meters on private wells. The aquifer I pull my water out of has dropped 40 feet in the last 20 years, so Spokane should be counting their blessings. It is unfortunate that the cult of climate change has become the tool of oppression and theft. Keep up the good work, I appreciate your writing.

  2. I understand your situation, especially in the valley’s on both sides of the Sierra. I have friends who are producing cattle and crops that are under increased stress due to water shortages. I used to hitch hike from So Cal to trailheads on the east side of the mountains. One day, an old Paiute tribesman picked me up and told me how much he hated people from L.A. because they had stolen all the water from the Owens Valley. Tribal wells had dried up, crops failed, the entire landscape was becoming desertified. All true, and I felt bad, guilty as charged, but that is not our situation here in eastern Washington. We live on top of a robust water source that may actually be increasing in volume over the past several decades due to shifting climate patterns and increased precipitation in our region. We are not diverting water from people who don’t count and giving it to people who count more. The total amount of water in and out of our aquifer is almost exactly the same.

  3. Dennis Tsiorbas

    Leftist control freaks are in power from stratosphere to aquifer, Spokane to DC, and womb to tomb. It’s now almost all in the breath of the prince of the power of the air.

  4. Calen Busch

    The SVRP is truly remarkable, and one of the main reasons is due to the extremely permeable nature of the unconsolidated, thick flood gravels that fill the Spokane Valley to depths of nearly 600 feet in some places. The porous gravels are nearly 100% unconfined in the SVRP, allowing direct recharge from the surface to groundwater. Many sections of the Spokane River are termed “losing reaches” where significant flow from the river actually recharges the SVRP groundwater. The unconfined SVRP helps keep the water cycle localized and relatively consistent over time.
    Conversely, the nearby Columbia River Basin Aquifer has experienced huge drawdowns and losses because of aquifer pumping over the past century. “Ancient water”, deep within confining layers of clay and basalt rock is pumped to the surface, never again to be returned to the aquifer (at least in our lifetimes). The water that doesn’t evaporate has a much more arduous journey to its deep aquifer home, simply due to the fact that the recharge pathways in that type of stratigraphy take hundreds to thousands of years for water to infiltrate and navigate. Not the mere hours or days like the SVRP. The combination of the hotter, drier climate, increased pumping due to the extensive agriculture of the basin, and lack of direct recharge has resulted in significant aquifer losses in the Columbia River Valley Aquifer, while the SVRP stays constant as ever. Obviously there are more factors involved, but its always fun to compare the basics of two nearby, and very important aquifer systems.

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