October 8, 2001
Guest Editorial: Working Together Makes A Difference
by Diana Gale, director, Seattle Public Utilities
Henry Ford once said, "Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." In fact, more than 1.3 million people in our region are working together every day to respond to this year's drought. Despite recent rains, last winter's drought conditions continue to have an impact on our water supplies. The snowpack in the mountains wasn't enough this year to give us the water flow we're used to. The reality is that winter snowpack has more to do with our water supply than does rainfall at this time of year.
The good news is that because everyone in the region has pitched in, customers of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) have saved more than 4 billion gallons of water. That's equivalent to our target for Nov. 1. We've managed to avoid the need for mandatory conservation controls. And although the drought for Seattle Public Utilities' customers is officially over, it doesn't mean that the problem is solved. But it's a good sign and an indication of what can be accomplished if we keep working together.
Now, the real issue is: will we be able to keep up our water saving habits once the rains of November begin? And what if the rains and snow don't come and we have another "dry" winter? You have demonstrated that, working together, it's possible to use less water without sacrificing. That's what it will take over the long term if we want to have enough water for people and fish. Simple personal actions have made a big difference ‹ things such as taking fewer showers and tolerating brown lawns. We are in a much better water situation than we were during our last drought in 1992. This is even with significant population growth.
Customers have asked me what SPU is doing to plan for the future and continued population growth. Will we have enough water for people, as well as restoring fish habitat and returning salmon to our rivers and streams? In order to answer those questions, you have to look at the source of our water.
For instance, Seattle's water supply comes from the Cedar and Tolt River watersheds. But they are just a small part of the overall regional watershed that provides water resources to residents all around the Puget Sound. We're all part of one large water network, so the water from the Cascades belongs to everyone. And it requires cooperative regional planning to ensure there's enough water for everybody now and in the future. SPU provides water directly to approximately 175,000 homes, representing 600,000 people. We also supply water to another 680,000 people in much of King County and a small part of Snohomish County through contracts with 25 wholesale customers, or purveyors. That's a total of nearly 1.3 million people in the region.
As a part of a long-term planning process, SPU negotiates contracts with purveyors for 40-60 years. Projected growth is planned for in these contracts by taking into consideration things such as continuing to draw on existing water sources, tapping potential new water sources as necessary and feasible, and encouraging conservations measures. Fish also play a role in this calculation. SPU and other water providers are responsible for ensuring that the flow of water and other conditions in the streams they manage are suitable for the recovery of threatened salmon and other species.
The city of Seattle has worked hard to develop a model Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the Cedar River that allows us to provide water from the watershed while protecting threatened - or potentially threatened - salmon species. In the Tolt River watershed, we formed a partnership called the Tolt Fish Habitat Restoration Group that uses an ecosystem approach to habitat restoration encompassing the area from the headwaters to the mouth of the Tolt River. Conservation is still our best "resource" to provide an adequate water supply for now and for the future.
Talking to people throughout this area, I am constantly impressed by their awareness of conservation as a lifestyle. People are proud of their efforts on things like recycling and being good "stewards" of our natural resources. Water conservation is very much a part of this lifestyle. Partnerships such as the regional collaboration of electric, gas, water and wastewater utilities are underway. This group encourages consumers to purchase resource-efficient clothes washers by offering a $100 cash rebate for the purchase of a qualified appliance. (For more information, see our Web site at www.ci.seattle.wa.us/util/RESCONS/washwise/default.htm. If we all work together as a region, we can make our water resources go farther and reduce the cost of tapping new sources. We can ensure future water supplies for people and for fish, and prepare for both good years and bad.