Politics & Government

Tacoma, other cities ask customers to use 10% less water

Tacoma, Seattle and Everett are asking residents to reduce their water use by 10 percent to cope with an especially hot and dry year.

On Tuesday, the cities’ water utilities announced the voluntary water-saving goal, which Tacoma Water spokeswoman Chris Gleason said will help them prepare for a fall that could also be unusually devoid of rain.

“We just want to be fairly conservative now so that if we don’t get rain, we’ve got a backup supply,” Gleason said.

Yet a similar call two months ago in Gig Harbor so far has failed to substantially reduce water use, causing officials there to wonder whether they’ll start having to make water-saving measures mandatory rather than optional.

While Gig Harbor officials have stopped watering much of the city’s street landscaping as part of the citywide effort, “it’s not a large enough of a reduction to make a significant difference,” said Jeff Langhelm, Gig Harbor’s public works director.

“It’s a blip on the screen,” Langhelm said.

To meet their 10 percent water-reduction goal, the Tacoma, Seattle and Everett utilities are asking their customers to take steps such as letting their lawns go brown and watering trees and shrubs less often. If the voluntary call doesn’t work, they too may need to order residents to stop watering their lawns to save water, Gleason said.

Tuesday’s announcement by Tacoma, Seattle and Everett is the second phase of the cities’ water shortage response plan. It’s a step beyond the advisory action the utilities took last month, when they asked customers to be mindful of wasting water. Yet it’s just shy of mandating that customers cut back their water use, which would be the third step of the plan.

The last time Tacoma Water reached this voluntary reduction phase was in 1992, a year when the city ultimately did ban lawn watering, Gleason said.

The utility provides direct water service to more than 300,000 people throughout Pierce and King counties.

Elsewhere in the South Sound, Lacey imposes summer watering limits every year as part of an ordinance approved in 2006.

Officials’ concerns about water supply relate not just to having enough water to meet customer demand, but also ensuring that fish can still travel through the state’s waterways.

“It’s been an unprecedented year for low stream flows and fish ... Both young and old are being stranded across the state,” said Bob Everitt, the North Puget Sound regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, in a written statement.

“We would greatly appreciate any reductions in water usage that would save water for more instream flow.”

During the voluntary water reduction, residents can expect to see more dry grass at parks run by Metro Parks Tacoma, though the agency will try to still maintain athletic fields and open grassy areas where people play and picnic, said spokesman Michael Thompson.

Staff “will closely monitor landscapes to ensure plants and trees do not suffer long-term damage,” but the agency plans to let some grass go dormant for now, Thompson wrote in an email.

The grass is expected to turn green again when more rain begins falling later this year, he said.

Recommendations to reduce water use

by 10 percent

▪ Let your lawn go dormant and limit plant watering to twice a week.

▪ Water plants before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m. to reduce evaporation.

▪ Take shorter showers at home, work and the gym.

▪ Check for and fix leaks now, including checking your toilets for silent leaks.

▪ Wash only full loads of laundry and dishes.