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Water conservation is the law in Medical Lake

Cheney Free Press of Cheney, Washington

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While some cities are asking residents to voluntarily adhere to an irrigation schedule, in Medical Lake, when you are allowed to water is the law.

In 2007, the City Council passed an ordinance establishing restrictions on irrigation from June - September because of a 2006 report indicating the city was facing a critical water situation. Ten years ago, the city's main well pump on the southeast corner of the State Route 902 and Craig Road intersection was running 24 hours a day during the hot weather, which in essence meant it wasn't refilling the city's water reservoir but rather feeding directly into the system.

The pump needed time to refill the reservoir and then shutdown for a bit to avoid damage, City Administrator Doug Ross said. One of the things that happens when a pump runs all the time is that a cone of air forms in the aquifer around the well as water is drawn down into the pump. If that air reaches the pump, it could damage the unit.

To avoid this, the council passed ordinance 983 in November 2007 — putting into law a residential irrigation schedule and a series of remedies to address violations.

Over four months in the summer, irrigation is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., with an exception made for newly planted lawns. The first violation of this results in a warning, which Ross said amounts to a notice hung on the resident's front door knob.

A second violation results in a fine, with a third and subsequent violations after that resulting in a misdemeanor charge.

Ross said reactions at first were not favorable to the restrictions and in some cases confrontational. When the thermometer soared over 90 degrees, residents watered all the day, particularly in the day in order to prevent their lawns from burning in the heat.

Over time, Ross said Medical Lake residents have come to understand more about water use and how they relate to the city's system.

"You lose well over 50 percent of water to evaporation during the day," he said. "Our water consumption quadruples in the summertime, but residents now understand that water is a finite source."

Besides the Craig Road well, the city also shares three wells with the state Department of Social and Health Services located west in the Espanola area. Medical Lake also has a mutual intertie with the Four Lakes Water District well, and sells water to the Strath view area east of the city.

Medical Lake isn't alone in its irrigation concerns. Airway Heights also codified its water conservation restrictions, and Cheney is asking users to voluntarily adhere to a watering schedule.

Ross said the restrictions haven't resulted in the city using less water, but rather using water more efficiently. According to its 2014 water quality report, the city produced and purchased almost 258.58 million gallons of water in 2013 while consuming 234.6 million gallons, resulting in almost 23.94 million gallons of water unaccounted.

By comparison in the 2015 report, Medical Lake produced and purchased almost 281 gallons of water in 2014, and consumed nearly 271 million gallons, resulting in an unaccounted figure of just over 9.8 million gallons.

Ross said the reduction in water losses were primarily from new meters the city has installed, resulting in better tracking of water usage. So far, the water levels have been good, a result likely of a cooler and wetter spring.

If temperatures should increase, as they likely will, the city is prepared to institute other measures to conserve water such as ceasing to irrigate parks and asking the school district to stop watering its fields. It's not popular, Ross acknowledged, and he conceded some parks grass to bounce back from similar measures last year.

"This is probably the new normal going forward," he said.

John McCallum can be reached at

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Original Publication Date: June 23, 2016

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