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The Future of our Water: Water Mining and the need for greater conservation practices on the Palouse. ` Kimberly Wright University of Idaho, 2012

The Future of our Water



In this paper I seek to analyze the conservation practices of ground water on the Palouse. Groundwater is the sole source of drinking water for the area has been in a steady decline for more than 50 years. The two main sources of drinking water for the region are two basalt aquifer systems: the Grande Ronde aquifer (lower aquifer) and the Wanapum aquifer (upper aquifer). Water levels within the Grande Ronde aquifer are declining. There are indications that while the upper aquifer has a relatively quick recharge rate, the lower aquifer has very little recharge if any at all. As such, the sole source of drinking water on the Palouse is now widely believed to be unsustainable, though little is known about actual recharge rates of the lower aquifer. Considering this, I will analyze what the ground water situation on the Palouse. Specifically, I will focus on how the municipalities and Universities who rely on the sole source aquifers for their drinking water are addressing the need for conservation. I will also analyze what future plans have been drawn, and make suggestions regarding what could be done in the future to increase conservation practices of this limited resource.

Keywords: Groundwater, Drinking water, Sustainability

The Future of our Water


Introduction: Groundwater accounts for nearly all water use for the over 60,000 residents within the Palouse River Basin, an area that encompasses the eastern part of Washington State and north central Idaho. The Groundwater is pumped from two basalt aquifers, which are a part of the extensive Columbia River Basalt Aquifer Group (University of Idaho,

Contrary to popular myth, an aquifer is not an underground lake or river system. Rather, the water located in the aquifer systems resides in a layer of water bearing permeable rock or other unconsolidated materials like gravel, sand, and silt. The Grande Ronde aquifer is the lower aquifer on the Palouse and is found at depths greater then 300 feet. This aquifer has a very with a slow, to arguably non-existant, recharge rate and is still the primary source of drinking water for the city of Moscow and the University of Idaho. This aquifer is also the only source of drinking water for Pullman, Washington State University, Colfax, and Palouse. Very little information is available about the actual recharge rate of the Grande Ronde Aquifer and research is ongoing to determine just how much, if any, recharge there is. The water currently in the lower aquifer seeped and formed its way into the rock during the last ice age and is approximately 20,000 years old, and is often referred to as fossil water. (PWCN, 2012) The Wanapum aquifer is the upper and shallower aquifer residing only about 60 feet below the surface. This aquifer has a much faster recharge rate and is the primary source of water for rural residents of Latah and Whitman Counties (PWCN, 2012). The recharge rate of an aquifer is the amount of time it takes for the water pumped to return to

The Future of our Water


the aquifer system. For a simple diagram of the Palouse aquifer system and ground water structures please see figure 1.

figure 1. Retrieved from Palouse Water Conservation Network 2012. Illustrates the Aquifer system used for groundwater on the Palouse.

Groundwater on the Palouse has been in a steady decline since the first deep wells were drilled more then 50 years ago. Water levels within the Grande Ronde aquifer are declining at an average rate of 1.3 feet per year (Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee 2012). There are indications that while the upper aquifer has a relatively quick recharge rate, the lower aquifer has very little recharge, if any. Figure 2 illustrates the data that has been recorded, showing the decline of water at the WSU test well for the Grande Ronde Aquifer from 1935 to 2010.

Figure 2 retrieved from Palouse basin aquifer committees 2011 water use report, illustrates the decline of the water table and also the decline of pump rates from 1935 to 2010

The Future of our Water

The amount of water that is available for sustainable use in an aquifer system can be determined by the rate of recharge and discharge of the system. From the data above it is evident that the ground water pumped from the Grande Ronde Aquifer is being mined. To mine ground water is the idea that the water used is exceeding the possible rate of recharge and thus being used unsustainably which occurs when the rate of discharge exceeds the rate of recharge (Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee, 2012). Considering this, I aim to research and address what conservation practices are currently in place and working to limit the groundwater pumped. In addition, I will analyze factors that may limit the conservation practices of our groundwater on the Palouse. Specifically, this paper researches the current major uses, attitudes, and societal values, in order to address how we can adopt better conservation practices and awareness. Overall, this paper aims to illuminate ways we can reduce our use of this precious limited resource, for ourselves and also for future generations.

Methods: In my research I randomly sampled from water policy documents published by municipal, state, and government agencies. I focused on evaluating information gathered and published by the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee (PBAC), an advisory committee that has made strides to better understand and manage the Palouse Basin Aquifer since 1987. I have analyzed the yearly reports that PBAC produces which make policy and conservation recommendations based on the current water usage for each University and Municipality on the Aquifer system. For the purposes of this evaluation policy documents are particularly relevant due to the management situation, location, and demand for

The Future of our Water compromise, as well as communication between state and municipal governments regarding the shared water resources.


In these documents I looked for common themes that addressed past, current, and future successes and constraints to water conservation on the Palouse between the City of Moscow water report, information compiled from the Palouse Water Conservation Network, and the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee 2011 yearly water usage report. I sought information from each to compare various water uses, policies, and practices between the municipalities and universities of the Palouse region that pump groundwater. I also looked for themes pertaining to the social aspects to water conservation and sustainability practices. Results: Overall, the documents selected all addressed three primary themes: echoed agreement about the increasing need for conservation, an inclusion of proposed solutions, and recognition of social factors.

Theme 1: Need for Conservation Each document echoed the need for more sustainable water practices. Examples of this are as follows: According to the 2011 water use report for the Palouse Ground Water Basin even with the increase in pumping in 2011 water use from the aquifers overall still remains almost 16 percent lower then when the Ground Water Management Plan was implemented in 1992. While that number is good, it is not good enough, and opportunities for conservation still exist that are under utilized.

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PBAC Director Steve Robison is quoted as describing 2.6 billion gallons of water as the equivalent of four football fields combined and filled to the height of the Lewiston grade (PBAC, 2012).

Five wells in Moscow have gone dry in the past five years and the Wanapum aquifer according to Robischon is Dropping like a rock (PBAC, 2012).

Pullman and Moscow each pumped approximately 1/3 of the total, with Pullman pumping 34% and Moscow pumping 31% of the total water pumped from the Grande Ronde Aquifer. Total water pumped by entity is shown below in figure 3. (PBAC, 2012)

Figure 3 shows the percentage of water used by entity for 2011 (PBAC, 2012)

The Future of our Water Theme 2: Proposed Solutions


Each document also put forth various solutions. The broadly agreed upon goal for water use on the Palouse is for a long-term solution to the water supply issues. The ideal solution would be safe, sustainable, and address the water needs of the region reliably in the long term. These documents also widely agreed that these solutions would be found through conservation practices and a reduction in our demand on the system. Other solutions that were proposed, but are more drastic, include seeking ways to encourage increases in natural recharge rates, and the possibility of having to find a new source of drinking water for the future (Beall, A.; Fiedler, F.; Boll, J.; Cosens, B., 2011).

Each university and municipality has taken actions to meet their voluntary pump limits. For example, the city of Moscow has been proactive about education and social influence of conservation practices throughout the community (City of Moscow, 2012). This is fairly well received within the community, and Moscow makes great efforts to continue these programs (e.g. hosting competitions for sustainable landscaping). The University of Idaho has a partnership with the City of Moscow that allows them to pump and use reclaimed water for irrigation purposes (City of Moscow, 2012). This greatly reduces the amount the University of Idaho pumps from the aquifer system. Pullman and Washington State University have discussed the possibility of using reclaimed water for irrigation purposes but have yet to invest the resources required to redistribute the reclaimed water back from the water treatment plant to the University. Such a project, while expensive, has the potential to greatly reduce the pump load on the Grand Ronde Aquifer (PBAC, 2012).

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Theme 3: Societal Factors

The documents also highlighted various societal factors. For example, the City of Moscow currently places a great deal of importance on social pressure and public recognition as a conservation tactic (Columbia Institute, 2012). They use a variety of social awareness methods; their yearly contest to promote sustainable landscaping is one example. Moscow has implemented more of this social tactic then Pullman, one possible reason might be that the citizens of Pullman are not as willing to accept similar programs. Programs like Moscows that promote social awareness and place status to individuals and businesses who participate in conservation practices show the importance of societal values in addressing conservation. Social programs can be used for both positive and negative reinforcement of values to promote conservation. Moscow has also implemented seasonally appropriate conservation charges on their water bills that discourage excess water use in the high demand months of the year. This tiered rate structure puts a penalty on abnormally high water usage, and water usage that doesnt meet the necessary conservation practices we require in the high demand months.

Pullman has yet to address such needs to increase their conservation practices. One major criticism of Washington State University is the creation of a golf course without the ability to use reclaimed water to irrigate the course (Columbia Institute, 2012). Few consumers on the aquifer have appropriate information about the issues regarding the WSU water usage for the golf course a aesthetic and recreational use of water that is being pumped from a sole source aquifer with a finite and unsustainable supply of water.

The Future of our Water One step to increasing conservation of the groundwater is to reduce the non-essential aesthetic uses of the drinking water. Especially in cases of the WSU golf course where they have the option to adopt practices like the U of I who has been using reclaimed water use for irrigation since 1967. It is long past time for the other major university on the aquifer to do the same. Discussion: By all accounts the entities have all made great strides in conservation as evidenced by the results in the annual reports from PBAC. Some would argue that this is

not enough and because the groundwater is finite we should be artificially recharging the aquifers, to enable us to continue pumping groundwater in the future. To artificially rechard the aquifers could put the groundwater quality at risk and reduce the storage and transmit potential of the basalts. Another option that has been proposed since the mid 1970s is the collection and direct use of surface water. This option carries with it an enormous initial cost of building the infrastructure to make the storage of surface water a feasible idea. However, this option does provide a sustainable alternative to pumping groundwater that would continue to be a valuable reserve that could be utilized in times when surface water was in reduced supply. Whichever method is ultimately chosen be it the direct use of surface water, artificial recharge, or more then likely a combination of the two. The solution will take many years and hold an extensive cost to develop and implement. Considering this, in the meantime, our limited groundwater resource ought to be used with the utmost of care and conservation. One way to promote such a move might be to create a tiered rate structure payment policy for the universities and municipalities on the aquifer. Charging tiered

The Future of our Water rates that increase based on the amount used for individual buildings and parks with accurate (not estimated) monthly water readings of any water pumped from the aquifer would make strides in keeping water use sustainable and accountable.


Conclusion and Future Study: More work should be done to understand how each entity is addressing the increasing need for conservation on the Palouse. Additional information about this could be gathered from interviews of the local municipal government entities to gain their input on implementing programs like the tiered rates scale for city and university water use. Surveys could also be conducted that evaluate knowledge and attitudes of the individual residential and businesss water usage. A meeting could be held to conduct education on conservation fixtures and practices that should be employed in households and business throughout the area. There is an exceptional amount of future research that should be done on this topic because of the wide variety of water users affected who can implement an array of conservation practices.

The Future of our Water


References Beall, A.; Fiedler, F.; Boll, J.; Cosens, B. (2011) Sustainable Water Resource Management and Participatory System Dynamics. Case Study: Developing the Palouse Basin Participatory Model. Sustainability, 2011, 3, 720-242 Retrieved from: City Of Moscow Idaho. (January 2012) Comprehensive Water System Plan.Moscow, ID: City of Moscow Idaho Columbia Institute. (2012) Aquifer in Crisis: WSU Water Mining, retrieved from: Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee. (September 2012) 2011 Palouse Groundwater Basin: Water Use Report. Moscow, ID: Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee.

Palouse Water Conservation Network. (2012) Palouse Water Conservation Network. Retrieved from: University of Idaho. (2011) Palouse Basin: Community Water Information System. Retrieved from: