Despite a statewide drought and water emergency declared by Gov. Jay Inslee, households in Pierce County don’t need to worry any more than normal about water use this year, officials say.
Jeff Marti, drought coordinator for the state Department of Ecology, said state officials aren’t anticipating regional water supply problems despite Inslee’s emergency drought declaration issued in March.
Still, the state is closely monitoring smaller, rural water suppliers.
Marti said the Department of Health has taken the lead on that effort, screening water systems to identify those that could be at risk for water shortages.
Ginny Stern, hydrogeologist for the department’s office of drinking water, said a committee of local, state and federal agencies helps determine potential effects of water shortages statewide.
So far, no water systems in Pierce County have been determined to be at risk, Stern said.
Still, the health department is closely watching the area’s systems that rely on a single supply source with a shallow or unknown depth and capacity, she said.
That amounts to about 120 systems that serve nearly 2,200 water users, according to health department data. Stern said that estimate only identifies who has the potential of being adversely affected by this or any drought; it’s not a representation of current supply problems.
She said the goal is to “educate system operators and their customers about wise water use and good conservation practices, so that they can avoid drought impacts.”
But the primary focus during the expected dry months ahead will be agriculture, fish habitat and wildfire risks.
Marti said statewide snowpack is less than 10 percent of normal. As a result, 81 percent of rivers and streams in the state are flowing below normal, “which is pretty extraordinary,” he said.
State projections show this summer will have the least snowmelt in 64 years, a worse outlook than during the state’s 2005 drought.
But many officials at water systems in Pierce County aren’t worried. That’s because in many cases their water supplies rely more on rainfall, which is about average this year.
The county’s three largest cities — Tacoma, Lakewood and Puyallup — all expect normal water levels this summer.
Tacoma Public Utilities has announced it has enough water, which comes mainly from the Green River, for customers and to protect fish runs.
TPU has said it will tap its groundwater wells earlier this year than it has in the past, and will draw more water from those sources.
Lakewood Water District announced similar news, saying customers don’t need to alter their “wise water use practices.”
“The aquifer levels in the Lakewood area are within normal ranges for this time of year,” according to a news release, “which means Lakewood Water District is not currently in a drought condition nor should be in the foreseeable future.”
Betty Vance, district manager for Puyallup-based Valley Water District, said there are no concerns about supply for the well-water-based systems that make up the district, which serves residents from Graham to the King County border.
Still, odd- and even-numbered households will stick to an alternating watering schedule, as they do every summer as part of routine conservation efforts.
Another Puyallup-area well water system, Fruitland Mutual Water Co., is also in good shape.
“We’re not being fazed by the drought situation, mainly because we are a groundwater system,” said general manager Ted Hardiman. “If this trend went on for three or four years, you’d start to see the aquifers being affected a little bit.”
He noted that average water use by Fruitland’s customers has actually gone down by almost 10 percent in the past five years, the result of ongoing conservation efforts.
“A lot of folks are really starting to take it to heart,” Hardiman said.
Mike Craig, field manager for Mt. View-Edgewood Water Company, said he also doesn’t expect supply issues. The member-owned utility is an aquifer-based system and doesn’t rely on snowpack.
“For us to see to a problem, we’d have to see it stop raining for about 10 years,” Craig said.
The water provider also encourages routine conservation efforts, including closely monitoring water meters monthly to detect potential leaks.
The city of Sumner’s water system, which draws from both wells and springs, hasn’t pinpointed formal drought-response measures, said city spokeswoman Carmen Palmer. The city is monitoring water tank levels, as it does each summer, she said.
Hardiman, of Fruitland Mutual, said the drought has heightened people’s awareness about responsible water consumption.
“Living in the Northwest, we’re pretty lucky,” he said. “A year like this is an eye-opener.”