Conservation key in Lacey water plan


LACEY, WA - 6/12/02 - -- Watering the sidewalk and the street doesn't just waste water and bump up the water bill.

It could prevent Lacey from keeping up with the demand for water.

Water conservation could help the growing city keep pace with new development without new water rights through about 2009 instead of 2006.

By then, conservation -- coupled with new water rights the Department of Ecology could approve or deny -- would allow the city's water supply to keep pace with demand into the future.

"So conservation is a very important part of what we do," said Peter Brooks, Lacey Water Resources manager.

Lacey's staff is looking at the city's water resources and other water issues while putting together the Water System Comprehensive Plan, which is due at the Department of Health by July 31.

Lacey uses an average of 3.6 million gallons per day, but the amount can triple on a hot day, city officials say.

The city needs to plan for peak days.

If residents used 1 percent less water each year, the city would have enough for growth through 2009, according to city officials.

Otherwise, the city could be looking at problems around 2006.

"The other alternative, of course, is that people control their own destiny," Brooks said, referring to water conservation.

North Bend faces the worst-case scenario.

North Bend declared a growth moratorium in 1999 because it doesn't have enough water rights to cover the city's demands, said Ron Garrow, North Bend's Public Works director and city engineer.

A new building can go in, but only if it doesn't use more water than the building it's replacing.

The city of 5,000 people depends on a spring for water but would like to drill a well.

North Bend submitted an application for water rights in 1992 to the Department of Ecology, but the application is waiting to be considered.

Lacey submitted five water rights applications for seven wells in 1994 and 1995.

The applications are among the Department of Ecology's backlog of 7,000 applications for new or modified water rights, said Curt Hart, spokesman for Ecology's Water Resources Program.

The underground water that Lacey would draw from is connected to the water in McAllister and Woodland creeks, Hart said.

A state rule prohibits taking more water from either creek without somehow replacing it.

Lacey needs to find a way to lessen the impact on the salmon-bearing creeks, Hart said.

"We're not saying it can't be done," Hart said.

But Ecology needs proof that the new water rights won't harm the creeks.

Lacey officials are aware mitigation is required, but Ecology has not said how much water is needed for mitigation, Brooks said.

Lacey officials hope a water model that Olympia is working on might answer some questions, Brooks said.

"What we would have to do is come up with another source of water," he said.

One form of mitigation the city is considering is the use of reclaimed water that the LOTT wastewater alliance will be producing in Hawks Prairie in a couple of years.

No guarantees

An application is no guarantee that water rights will be granted, Hart said.

Ecology must determine whether water is available, whether the use is beneficial and in the public interest and that the new rights won't impair existing rights.

Ecology is working on the 7,000 applications, Hart said.

The Legislature gave the department some better tools last year, such as allowing the department to process changes to water rights before working on the new rights, Hart said.

This year, Ecology has processed 81 applications for new water rights.

About 32 percent were approved, Hart said.

"The situation we're facing with the city of Lacey is not unique," Hart said.

"A lot of areas in the state of Washington are facing the same thing. Even though it rains all the time in the state of Washington, water is a finite resource."

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