Washington: Will a water crisis be next?

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Will a water crisis be next? February 15, 2001, 09:45 PM

REPORTED BY Glenn Farley SEATTLE – We use a lot of power in the winter to heat our homes, but it can get pretty dry around here come summer – and that's when we'll need water as much as power. But will the water be there?

Right now, the snowpack and rainfall at Seattle's biggest Cascade reservoir is at 65 percent of normal. Some reservoirs are only at 50 percent.

Despite that, utilities do think a water crisis can be avoided, if we're smart about it. But that means we can't wait until July to wise up.

In the late 1980s, then again in the early 1990s, Seattle's main water supply reservoirs were extremely low, and Seattle Public Utilities vowed to avoid another water crisis.

This year could test that resolve.

“There will be utilities that have trouble this summer,” said Diana Gale, Seattle Public Utilities, who heads one of the state'’ largest water utilities.

And like a conscientious squirrel, Seattle Utilities has been socking away their acorns, trying to keep the available reservoirs and aquifers as full as possible.

“We can't buy water at any price from California, we'll have to look at ways to stretch what we have,” said George Schneider, Seattle Public Utilities.

The utility is expecting more normal precipitation between now and this coming summer. If that happens, the kinds of water shortages which bring brown lawns, dirty cars and fines might be avoided.

But two of the nation's key drought indexes find that Western Washington, in fact the whole region, is in a moderate drought, and with most of the winter delivering only half to two thirds of the rainfall and snow we normally get.

“It would take extraordinarily wet weather to make up the deficit we have encountered during the first four to five months of our wet season. That's very unlikely at this point,” said Doug McDonald, NOAA hydrologist.

Therefore, utilities are asking us to conserve now – to install faucet and shower heads that save water, to use more efficient toilets and washing machines, to do as much as we can to try and get through this summer.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 16, 2001

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