Water Matters: A day without water

In case you missed it, Oct. 10 was the fourth annual “Imagine a Day Without Water.”

Fortunately, observance of this new tradition can happen anytime, at one’s convenience — which is ironic, since finding oneself without water would actually be a catastrophic inconvenience and untimely regardless of the date. And it wouldn’t just be for one day.

I find trying to imagine a day without water very difficult, except for thirsty memories of the hike we did in the southern Utah desert one year in the heat of June.

For most of us, our very first business of the day involves water: cleaning, flushing, and making coffee. Miss out on those and the day is already wrecked.

Breakfast? Well, fresh-squeezed orange juice is yummy and offers a small jolt to help wake us up. After that, we’ll drive to the office and be good until lunch. Or not.

The dog’s bowl is empty, your kids can’t water their pumpkin plants, you were planning to wash the car today … and you realize your elderly father’s nursing home must be in crisis.

It’s tough to realistically imagine a large-scale public health and safety crisis.

But that’s what the “Value of Water Campaign” wants with its “Imagine a Day Without Water.” Specifically, the campaign wants regular folks as well as their elected representatives to pay attention to deteriorating water infrastructure and prioritize funding for improvements.

The negligence of water managers in Flint, Mich., to address failing infrastructure shouldn’t be repeated in the U.S. in this day and age. Unfortunately, decaying pipes and pumps, polluted water, and dropping water tables and reservoirs are all growing problems in our country and most others.

Capetown, South Africa, caught our attention earlier this year when managers announced “Day Zero,” when everyone in that city would be out of water (originally April 21). I heard that a highly visible billboard reporting real-time reservoir declines was a good motivator for conservation, for those with discretionary water-use habits. An early monsoon season also helped.

Many other places are not so lucky, such as Mexico City and small towns in California’s Central Valley with unsafe water quality and unreliable supplies.

Sequim posts its annual water quality Consumer Confidence report online, to show compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. The report also lists the history of city water supply sources, a testing schedule, conservation tips, and other information from the latest water system plan.

While local purveyors may be compliant now, replacing aging infrastructure is a looming concern because funding assistance tends to focus on emergencies. Perhaps there should be incentives for long-term planning and prevention rather than reliance on emergency assistance.

For residents of the Dungeness River watershed, increasing low stream flow problems for irrigation and fish may be the biggest threats to our daily life and the local economy. Across the North Olympic Peninsula, even slightly warmer winters will shrink glaciers and result in less aquifer recharge and less robust drinking water supplies – unless infrastructure is available to capture, convey, store or infiltrate rainy season runoff.

Replacing the storage capacity of glaciers is no small chore. Fortunately for the Sequim area, a good proposal has been put forward with the Dungeness off-channel reservoir. See www.sequimwa.gov or www.clallam.net for details.

As the Value of Water campaign says, “Investing in our water is investing in a future where no American will have to imagine a day without water.” #ValueWater

Geek Moment: 2018 Water Year Report

It might surprise you that the water year, which ended on Sept. 30, had 125 percent of average precipitation—including above-average snowpack and summer showers — and yet the Dungeness River flow was way below normal all summer. How could this be?

As usual, the story is found in the hydrograph of the river. The peak discharge in spring was about as high as normal but the flow, trending downward into fall, shows it to be 2-3 weeks earlier than the long-term average. The flow was following the trend very consistently, except that it was offset by 2-3 weeks.

Our snowpack reservoir melted out early.

Flow levels may not have been the crisis they have in the past for migrating salmon, low flow during the warmest part of the summer means much higher stream temperatures and higher risk of predation.

All of this is what we are told to expect in the future as seasonal average temperatures rise. Painful as it may be to some, we will need to do a snow dance instead of a rain dance — or salmon will be living a day without water.

Statistic (Oct. 1, 2017-Sept. 30-2018):

• At the Sequim 2E weather station (Schmuck Road): Total rainfall = 20.45 inches; Most rainfall in 24 hours = 1.14 inches on Dec. 18; Highest temp. = 86 deg. F on August 20; Lowest temp. = 21 deg. F on Dec. 23 and Jan. 31

• At the SNOTEL station in the upper Dungeness watershed (elev. 4,010): Maximum snow water = 10.1 inches in late March; Lowest temp. = 8 deg. F on Feb. 19; Highest temp = 85 deg. F on July 30 and Aug. 8

• At the USGS gauge on the Dungeness River (Mile 11.2): Highest flow = 2,980 cfs on Nov. 23; Lowest flow = 89.1 cfs on Sept. 29

• Bell Creek at Carrie Blake Park = Flow ranges from 0 to 10 cfs; Bell Creek at the mouth at Washington Harbor = Flow generally ranges from 0.5 to 15 cfs.

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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