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Time To Let Your Lawn Go Brown, Climatologists Say

Extremely dry weather and rising use have got the Puget Sound region’s cities thinking seriously about a water shortage later this year.

Seattle, Tacoma and Everett said Monday that they're activating the first stage of water shortage response plans.

They say the announcement is a precautionary measure, but if conditions worsen, they could ask for voluntary water reductions.

“Six out of seven of the models are showing that it’s going to be warmer than normal, and a majority of them are showing that it’s going to be drier than normal also,” state climatologist Nick Bond told KUOW’s Ross Reynolds on The Record.

The director of water planning for Seattle Public Utilities says new steps are being taken to maximize supplies.

"Couple examples involve activating our wells, which we use to meet seasonal, peak needs for water, particularly in the summertime,” said Alex Chen. “And we're also making sure that our pumping plants on one of reservoirs are fully functional, should we need to use them to access water at lower elevations."

The last time SPU instituted a water shortage contingency plan was in 2005, the agency said.

Very low snowfall this winter meant little or no snowpack to refill city reservoirs. Knowing that, the city filled up on late winter and spring rains.

But the region has seen little rain since early April – it was the driest May-June ever for Seattle, and the city’s warmest June ever. As of last week, 100 percent of the state was in drought condition, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

And water use is up. SPU Director Ray Hoffman said earlier this month that the rate “has exceeded expected use by 21 percent since May 1.” That’s still below the typical rate of use in the late 1980s, according to SPU data (see graphic below).

All of that has put SPU’s reservoir storage at a level it usual sees in October, at the end of the dry season.

So you're advised to make sure you're not wasting water.

SPU offers this advice:

  • Water before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m. to reduce evaporation.
  • Use one or two deep waterings, rather than several shallow waterings.
  • Fix obvious indoor and outdoor leaks such as faucets and spigots. For silent toilet leaks, put several drops of food coloring in your toilet tank; after 10 minutes if color appears in the toilet bowl, there’s a flapper leak.
  • Use car washes that recycle their water.
  • Use a broom rather than a hose to clean sidewalks, driveways and patios.
  • Wait until your clothes washer and dishwasher are full before starting a load.

“Let’s just leave our lawns to go brown,” climatologist Bond said. “It’s kind of reverse Seattle chic. I’m going to keep my tomatoes watered, that’s my cash crop … but the lawns, hey, let’s wait til next year.”

Photo credit: "Seattle summer lawn," by Jeff Younstrom on Flickr (CC BY NC 2.0)

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