Occasionally people ask if I run out of topics for this water column. It makes me laugh inside to be reminded what a nerd I am because the truth is no, I will never run out of ways to talk about water. At these moments I try to feign normalness and say yeah, it can be tough.
Case in point: Just last week, Sequim celebrated water with its longest-running festival in the state. Oh wait, I mean, celebrating gifted young royalty and logging skills. In any case, our tradition honors the wellspring of irrigation bounty to the prairie afforded by pioneers and the Dungeness River — albeit at great expense.
Slightly under the radar, last week also was National Drinking Water Week. This annual coincidence with Sequim’s Festival of Irrigation is one I’ve used before to remind our community of the infiltrating benefit to the region’s aquifers and drinking water supply from irrigation. The Dungeness River and the irrigation system recharge our groundwater supplies more than the scant rainfall we receive from the sky.
Not to be outdone, we now have Infrastructure Week! Starting in 2013, engineers from around the U.S. use this annual stage to advocate to decision-makers and educate the public about the importance of maintaining and improving our nation’s infrastructure, from carbon fiber to sewage and reclaimed water.
Buried pumps and pipes carrying precious water and waste; fabulous bridges, freeways and ports; bike lanes, light rail and cell towers: These are the thresholds between Third World and “developed” nations, the backbone for transportation and commerce, the feats of engineering that make modern life so comfortable.
Publicly utilized and publicly funded (mostly), our nation’s infrastructure in 16 categories has been graded every four years since 1998 by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The overall GPA for 2017 is a D+, indicating a real opportunity for bipartisan support of improvements. ASCE estimates the cost to improve this grade is $4.59 trillion over 10 years.
This would be a great week for good news from Washington, D.C., on exactly how much the federal government plans to invest.
Resilient communities everywhere make strategic investments to hedge bets against the challenging impacts of climate change and growth, with water management being one of the biggest challenges.
So-called “green” infrastructure incorporates natural processes and ecosystem services and is often cheaper, less polluting and simpler to maintain than traditional “gray” pipes and other concrete infrastructure.
The City of Sequim can boast that its stormwater system is based on infiltration, its purple pipes carry reclaimed wastewater back into the city for re-utilization and its deep wells minimize loss of streamflow.
Commercial irrigators continue to be more efficient, aiming to reduce the amount of water needed from the Dungeness River. They maintain some pretty cool infrastructure, too, such as the siphon that drops water down and back up again at the Bell Creek canyon and those under U.S. 101, built for the bypass by the state DOT.
And then there’s the granddaddy of all water infrastructure, the proposed off-channel reservoir designed to retain streamflow in the Dungeness during late summer while providing reliable water for irrigation and aquifer recharge. This project would vastly reduce impacts to streamflow while ensuring a source of water for commercial irrigation even in drought years. The $25 million price tag will seem like a bargain soon enough.
Yet more remains to be done.
Just last week the Sequim City Council got technical lessons in street pavement preservation and electric vehicle charging stations. It’s the fifth annual national observance, but for local governments like Sequim, every week is Infrastructure Week.
The next time you see someone wearing a safety vest or hard hat, please say thanks. After all, next week is National Public Works Week!
(For more information, see www.infrastructurereportcard.org/making-the-grade/report-card-history/#infrastructurematters #timetobuild)
For the 2017 water year (started Oct. 1) on May 15:
• In Sequim, cumulative rainfall = 13.7 inches (very high)
• At the SNOTEL station (elevation 4,000 feet) snowpack = 0; snow water equivalent = 0; Cumulative precipitation = 146 percent of average.
• Dungeness River at Mile 11.8, flow = 550 cfs (tail end of rainstorms). Bell Creek flow into Carrie Blake Park = dry, unless it’s raining; at the mouth = 1+ cfs. (1 cfs is just less than 650,000 gallons per day)
Ann Soule is a hydrogeologist immersed in the Dungeness watershed since 1990, now resource manager for City of Sequim. Reach Ann at email@example.com or via her blog @watercolumnsite.wordpress.com.