Project open to homes throughout valley
Want to know how much water you use?
There are still water meters available for the Methow Watershed Council’s pilot program. The deadline for installation is March 31.
The council is also compiling a list of interested people for a larger sample of water meters next year. The level of interest will help secure funding for that phase, Metering Project Coordinator Sandra Strieby said.
Water. Do we have enough for the people who live and work in the valley? What about new houses and businesses? Farmers?
Methow residents can help answer these crucial questions by volunteering to meter their actual water use through a new project coordinated by the Methow Watershed Council.
Supported by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology, the voluntary metering starts as a small pilot program, with 12 meters to be installed at homes throughout the valley, most likely this spring. The council is still looking for participants, Metering Project Coordinator Sandra Strieby said.
The project is entirely voluntary and open to full-time or part-time residents anywhere in the valley. Because the technology uploads information to a central database via Verizon’s cellular network, participants must be able to get a Verizon cell signal at their home.
Meters will measure indoor and outdoor use — anything supplied by a well. They won’t measure irrigation using a separate water right, Strieby said.
Once researchers have actual numbers — the meters upload data every five minutes (after an upgrade, readings will be every minute) — they will apply a formula to determine how much of that water is consumed and how much goes back into the aquifer.
“The neat thing about the meters is that they’re so precise, they can provide algorithms that indicate whether water use is indoor or outdoor, based on the flow rate,” Strieby said.
The meters will be completely non-invasive. Because the data is automatically transmitted, no one comes to the property to read them. Participants can download an app to keep track of their own use, which can help with conservation goals or to identify a leak.
Some people may be concerned that the meters will police water use, but that’s not the intention, Strieby said. Data will be aggregated, although each meter is assigned to an individual address.
So far, one meter has been installed at the home of watershed council member Mike Fort. Four other meters have been earmarked for houses under construction by the Methow Housing Trust in Mazama.
Okanogan County was sued because its comprehensive plan didn’t take water into account and the county commissioners are still working to revise the plan. Then in December, the commissioners put a two-year ban on new subdivisions in the Methow watershed to study water use and determine if there’s a better way to allocate it. Winthrop and Twisp face limits on development if they don’t find another water source.
But all these issues hinge on a basic question — how much water do we actually use for cooking, bathing, and watering a lawn or garden?
One reason the commissioners declared a moratorium on dividing property is to see if there’s a way to revise the 1976 Methow Rule so that water can be distributed where it’s needed, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover said.
Under the state’s “exempt-well” law, most people who use a well get up to 5,000 gallons a day for household use and a 1/2-acre garden. Until now, policy makers assumed that we use just 710 of those gallons.
A 2011 water-withdrawal study done in for the watershed council by Aspect Consulting calculated that only 15% of the water used indoors is actually consumed. Outdoors, it’s the opposite — they estimated that 85% is consumed and only 15% goes back into the ground. All water used for livestock is considered consumed.
The Methow Rule allocates 14 cubic feet per second (cfs) (almost 449 gallons per minute) of water to the entire watershed, but splits it equally among seven reaches, from Early Winters to the lower valley (everything south of Twisp).
Based on the current estimate — that households use 710 gallons per day — 2 cfs is enough water for about 1,820 houses, including indoor and outdoor use, according to the watershed council. As of last year, Aspect estimated that the lower Methow (Twisp to Pateros) has almost 900 houses and could run out of water if all existing lots were built on. By contrast, Early Winters has no houses and there’s no chance of residential development there.
The rule also gives first priority to residential development for individual houses (“single-domestic use”). That means these houses get water even before ensuring there’s water in rivers for fish. All other uses — municipal (Twisp and Winthrop) and group-domestic (a development with several houses) are further down on the list.
More information about actual water use will help policy makers decide whether to revise the rule and how to plan for the future, according to the watershed council.
The watershed council will report results after the first year of the metering program. They’ll probably incorporate data from metering projects in other watersheds, aerial photos, and information from Ecology to validate their results, Strieby said.