Water Matters: Reviewing the water year

Water can be a scary thing. For over a month people in hurricane country have been overwhelmed with water, dealing with flooded homes and completely disrupted lives. This is on top of terrible loss of life and property and need for assistance with food, drinking water and shelter for family.

Here in Washington state, water should not have been scary in 2017, but it disrupted business and many people’s lives in our state nevertheless. In our state it wasn’t flooding that overwhelmed, but water policy disagreements in the state legislature, leaving billions of dollars of annual expenditures — mostly associated with construction jobs — unapproved when our elected representatives adjourned for the year without approving a capital budget.

Sequimites were recently overwhelmed with concern about whether schools would be open or picketed, whether our children would have a classroom and teacher or stay home and watch TV.

With monstrously heavy concerns like these surrounding us it just doesn’t seem right to call for more attention to water. In fact, when flooding is overtaking the news it’s pretty hard to imagine a water shortage anywhere at the moment.

After all, migrating salmon are not high and dry this year. Farmers are not asking lawn-watering neighbors to quit. The city is not subsiding into the very earth like some areas in the Midwest and California, from over-pumping groundwater.

So what’s the water problem?

The actual problem is climate change, but like certain medical conditions, the real problem is lack of acceptance of the actual problem.

Symptoms of overwhelming problems are often only contemplated when they flare. Got hurricanes, floods, wildfires and drought? Often it takes study of data, charts and statistics before reality sinks in.

In the case of western Washington’s declining water resources, the data and evidence are overwhelming. The immediate problem for Sequim is staying on top of the symptoms of climate change before they overwhelm us.

Adaptation is the way to resilience, and long-term success requires deliberate preparation. From regular maintenance of our stormwater infrastructure to building a water storage reservoir, due diligence is the only way to get there without a crisis.

As for the disease itself, it takes guts and genuine leadership to face it.

Geek moment: Sequim water stats for the 2016-17 Water Year

Both the federal fiscal year and the water year adopted by hydrologists run from Oct. 1-Sept. 30. Makes sense, right? Account for all your budget in the first six months and spend until it runs out.

For the record, at the end of the 2016-2017 water year, Sequim measured a grand total of 15.3 inches of rain at the City of Sequim’s Water Reclamation Facility near sea level by Sequim Bay. The long-term average is 16-17 inches, but we had a colder, dryer mid-winter period compared to most winters.

The longest stretch of days with no rain was a record-breaking 56 days, broken by a trace level of moisture in mid-August but followed by many more rain-free weeks.

At the Dungeness SNOTEL station (elev. 4,010 feet), cumulative precipitation was 58.4 inches (1981-2010 average is 45 inches). The maximum snow water equivalent was 9.9 inches on March 10 (1981-2010 median peak is 7 inches in mid-March).

The number of days that stayed at or below freezing was 27 (long-term average not established).

At the U.S. Geological Survey gage on the Dungeness River upstream of the fish hatchery, the peak flow from snowmelt was 1,350 cubic feet per second (cfs) on May 30. This is a little earlier but higher than the long-term median peak snowmelt flow. Dungeness flow on Sept. 30 was 130 cfs (long-term median is about the same); this is typically the time of the lowest flows of the annual cycle.

Bell Creek flow into Carrie Blake Park has been zero (dry) for months; at the mouth at Washington Harbor flow is a trickle, less than 0.5 cfs. (Note: 1 cubic foot per second is just under 650,000 gallons per day.)

Bell Creek Flow: guess-the-date contest!

Win a prize if you pick the right (or closest) date Bell Creek starts flowing through town this winter for the “wet season.” (Wet, that is, relative to other seasons in Sequim but not to many other places in the northern hemisphere!)

If you think you can predict based on past performance, good luck … In the last four water years continuous flow started on Feb. 4, Nov. 15, Dec. 9 and Jan. 19. But go ahead and do some online research, throw a dart, or consult the Farmer’s Almanac.

Submit your entry by email to waterinfo@sequimwa.gov or call 360-582-5710 with your name, phone number, and date chosen.

One guess per person and you must submit at least a week in advance of the right date! Flash floods and short intermittent flow don’t count: Flow should persist for at least seven days in the channel along North Blake Avenue; there is a staff gage just upstream of the Friendship Pond at Carrie Blake Park.

Ann Soule is a hydrogeologist immersed in the Dungeness watershed since 1990, now Resource Manager for City of Sequim. Reach Ann at columnists@sequimgazette.com or via her blog at watercolumnsite.wordpress.com.

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