SEATTLE - It’s been more than a week since Seattle Public Utilities asked roughly 1.5 million people to use less water, and despite rain – that call remains in place.
Between May and September, the watershed where SPU draws two-thirds of the area's water had 19 inches of rain less than they see on an average year. They’ve seen about three inches of rain since the call for people to decrease water usage.
In the short-term, the increase in rain has local streams and river flows returning to normal. A week ago, the state’s climate office noted many stream flows were at record lows for this time of year.
"It’s great to see the rain," Jeff Marti said on Tuesday. Marti is the Washington Department of Ecology’s drought coordinator. "We still have a long winter ahead of us."
That winter comes in the middle of El Niño, which is typically associated with a subpar snowpack.
Nick Bond, the state climatologist, told FOX 13 that plenty of factors will play a role.
"If the winter is a rough one from a water supply point of view next year could be very concerning," said Bond.
According to SPU, they plan months in advance in an attempt to predict future reservoir conditions.
"SPU has been and continues to plan for these future weather changes and how we need to adjust the way we operate our reservoirs and water supply system to ensure enough water for people and fish," a spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the state is trying to prepare more municipalities as drought declarations are becoming more commonplace and climate impacts are already being noticed.
Earlier this month, the Department of Ecology announced that $1.8 million worth of grant money will be opened up in 2024 to increase local drought preparedness. Details of eligibility and the application process are expected to be released later this year.
Since 2015, the state has already awarded more than $8 million in emergency grant droughts.
Recent research has even predicted that the state could see snow droughts every other year by 2050, as warmer winters become "the norm."
"Our water demand is going to be higher in the summer, and we’ll have less snowpack to work with," said Marti. "These are things we know are going to happen, so it makes sense to plan for it."
If there is a silver lining, it’s that SPU has reduced the total consumption of water in the past few decades despite a population boom of 1 million, to 1.5 million that relied on their water system.
They previously launched an initiative, along with 19 local water utilities, to reduce water consumption called the Saving Water Partnership.
"If everyone pulls back a little bit, collectively that will make a difference," said Kelly O’Rourke, a water conservation manager at SPU.
There are easy ways to reduce water use including:
- Shorter, or fewer, showers
- Take a shower instead of a bath
- Wash only full loads of laundry/dishes
- Turn off the tap while brushing teeth/shaving
- Stop watering lawns
- Delay non-essential washing outdoors
- Check/fix leaks, especially on running toilets
If you’d like additional water-saving tips, SPU has a helpful flyer with details here.