Water managers in the Puget Sound region are asking users to cut back on water use as the drought deepens.
Tacoma Water will join Everett and Seattle in what is called a water advisory — the first of four stages in the utility’s water shortage response plan.
A water advisory is “letting people know there might be a water shortage,” said Nora Doyle, spokeswoman for Tacoma Public Utilities, which manages the city’s water supply.
The next two steps of the water shortage response plan are voluntary restrictions and mandatory restrictions. The fourth step, an emergency water shortage, would be caused by an intense drought or a large catastrophic event, such as a large earthquake, and would include the loss of the city’s primary transmission mains or the headworks on the Green River.
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Water users were last advised of low-water conditions in 2005, Doyle said. In 1992, water users were asked to voluntarily reduce water use. A drought in 1987 forced the utility to institute mandatory outdoor watering restrictions in September of that year through December.
This drought, Doyle said, is unprecedented.
“From a weather standpoint, 2015 is worse than all of those years,” Doyle said. “We are hotter and drier than we have been. We have not seen a year like this.”
People are using about 34 percent more water than typical this time of year. In June, typical use is 64 million gallons of water per day. This year, after the driest May and June on record, people used 86 million gallons per day, according to the utility.
If users can cut water use enough, it will provide the utility a cushion until the fall rains bring relief, she said.
The utility recently changed the way it processes its water, from an unfiltered to a filtered system. However, the recent drought means the city relies less on water from the Green River and more on groundwater wells.
Agreements with area Native American tribes require the utility and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to save enough water behind the Green River’s Howard Hanson Dam to protect salmon habitat. Salmon and steelhead trout are sensitive to high water temperatures.
Tacoma Water supplies water directly to about 316,000 people in Tacoma, University Place, Ruston and areas of unincorporated Pierce and south King counties. The utility also serves some areas within the cities of Puyallup, Fircrest, Lakewood and Bonney Lake, and sells wholesale water to Auburn, Bonney Lake, Fife, Puyallup and parts of Pierce and King counties.
Elsewhere, the Lakewood Water District is not reporting a shortage and has not implemented any restrictions or advisories, a spokeswoman said Monday. The district serves 61,000 retail customers in the Lakewood area and provides water for the Summit community water system and for wholesale customers.
The City of Gig Harbor, which implemented voluntary water restrictions last month, is continuing with that program and has no current plans to switch to mandatory limits, city engineer Steve Misiurak said Monday.
Ways you can cut water use
Tacoma residents are being asked to take several steps to reduce water use, including:
▪ Water lawns and gardens early or late in the day, which reduces water loss through evaporation.
▪ Water deeply but infrequently.
▪ Fix leaks in the home, such as running toilets and dripping faucets.
▪ Wash full loads of laundry and dishes, which saves water.
▪ Wash vehicles at locations that recycle the water.