Mayor urges turn off tap, protect fish

Susan Gordon; The News Tribune


Seattle, WA -Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels asked the city's 1.3 million water customers Monday to reduce consumption to protect fish in the Cedar River, where a prolonged dry spell has reduced water flow.

Voluntary conservation could help Seattle avoid future water restrictions if the weather pattern persists, Nickels said.

"We hope to save five million gallons of water per day, slow the rate of decline in the mountain reservoirs, and maintain flows in the rivers to protect salmon eggs," he said.

Tacoma Water officials haven't asked their 90,000 customers to conserve, but have already reduced the city's dependence on river water, also to safeguard fish. Starting in September, Tacoma Water began using its wells to supplement water supplies drawn from the Green River.

In both the Cedar and Green watersheds, and elsewhere in Western Washington, low water flow threatens the survival of salmon, and in some cases steelhead trout, said Craig Bartlett, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"We have been talking to municipal water departments for a couple of months now as the drought has continued. The water levels are extremely low throughout Western Washington," he said.

The Cedar River watershed, for example, has received only a third of normal rainfall, Seattle officials said. The area has recorded only 11 inches of rain in the past three months, well below the normal 29 inches.

In Tacoma, where consumers now use about 50 million gallons of water daily, officials have reduced the daily draw from the Green River to 36 million gallons, the minimum needed to operate the pipeline effectively. The city has the capacity to draw 60 million gallons a day from its wells.

Ordinarily, cities try to leave a minimum amount of water in the rivers for fish. But this year, the natural flows have fallen far short of those levels, Bartlett said.

Low river flow poses three kinds of problems for fish, he said. Migrating fish depend on rapidly moving water to find their way upstream to spawn. At this time of year, that means chum and steelhead, primarily. Chinook and most coho already have spawned, Bartlett said.

At the same time, continuously flowing water is needed to keep salmon eggs from freezing or drying out, he said. Salmon bury their eggs in nests, also called redds, on the bottoms of rivers and streams.

Lack of water also forces fish, particularly chinook, to bury their eggs in the deepest parts of the river channel, Bartlett said. This makes them more likely to be washed out later on when the rivers again run high.

In Seattle, Nickels asked consumers to flush toilets less, take shorter showers, fill clothes and dishwashers to capacity,and turn off taps while brushing teeth or washing dishes by hand. He asked businesses to shut off decorative fountains and limit vehicle washing, among other things. He suggested that restaurants quit serving water unless customers ask and that health clubs issue only one towel per person.


Related Story:

Residents urged to conserve water

By Eric Sorensen and Bob Young
Seattle Times staff reporters


Seattle officials yesterday asked the public to flush and wash just a little less often, all with an eye toward saving water because so little rain has fallen this autumn.

Voluntary restrictions could save 5 million gallons a day and forestall mandatory restrictions should dry conditions persist, Mayor Greg Nickels said.

To help, the mayor asked the public to:

Flush one less time each day.

Spend a minute less in the shower.

Wash only full loads in the clothes washer and dishwasher.

Clean driveways and sidewalks with a broom, not a hose.

Turn off the tap while brushing teeth or washing dishes.

Nickels also suggested that people should wash their cars less and that restaurants should serve water only when asked.

His timing could have been better, with the first of a week's worth of forecasted weather systems bringing rain to the region as he spoke.

"Generally an announcement like this is a prelude to a lot of rainy weather," Nickels quipped.

But he and Chuck Clarke, director of Seattle Public Utilities, downplayed the new rain. "If it rains for the next three to four weeks at 3 inches per week, I would say we'll be in pretty good shape," Clarke said.

In the past three months, only about one-third the usual autumn rain has fallen in the Cedar River watershed, the primary water supply for 1.3 million people in King County.

"Normally we measure rainfall in feet," Nickels said. "Now we're only at 11 inches."

At the same time, Seattle has to supplement river flows to protect salmon while meeting the water needs of the city and more than two dozen area utilities that buy its water.

Seattle Public Utilities has taken several steps to save water, relying more heavily on the new Tolt Water Treatment Facility, which boosted the amount of water available from the Tolt River, and activating wells in the Highline area.

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company


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