Thursday, May 23, 2024

Water use soaring

Staff Writer | July 18, 2023 1:08 AM

COEUR d'ALENE — In June, the city of Coeur d'Alene pumped 780.8 million gallons of water.

If that sounds like a lot, it is.

That was 350 million gallons more than the same month last year when the city pumped 430.8 million gallons.

Terry Pickel, Coeur d'Alene water department director, attributes the soaring water use to hot and dry conditions and residents' efforts to keep lawns green by running sprinklers.

July is shaping up much the same.

"I would certainly expect to see a significant July increase as temps are soaring," he wrote in an email to The Press on Monday.

The city is considering a water conservation ordinance to prohibit watering from noon to 6 p.m. and possibly looking at odd/even water schedules.

"We simply can’t continue to punch new wells," Pickel wrote, adding that he would like to see a balance between watering in the early morning hours, from 4 to 8, and evening hours, from 6 to 10.

Coeur d'Alene has 11 wells, with the newest one brought online in January 2022.

The city's sole source of water is the Rathdrum Prairie aquifer.

Pickel said the city's peak day demand recently reached 38.2 million gallons. It usually sees its annual peak day between mid-July to mid-August.

"We now have a maximum daily pumping capacity of just under 49 million gallons per day," Pickel wrote.

Coeur d'Alene's record-high water use was July 1, 2021, at 42.66 million gallons.

Pickel said early morning consumption, mainly due to irrigation, is exceeding the city's total gallon-per-minute capacity of 34,000 gpm.

"Which means we have to heavily rely on our eight million gallon storage capacity to make up the difference," Pickel wrote.

The levels start to recover about 9 a.m. and by mid-afternoon, the storage tanks have recovered. Mid-evening sees another draw on the system but not nearly as severe as in the morning, he said.

Despite rising demand, Coeur d'Alene's water is relatively cheap. Drive down any street, morning to evening, and chances are you'll see sprinklers spinning and spraying water.

The current single-family rate is $1.09 per 1,000 gallons up to 30,000 gallons. It increases to $1.57 per 1,000 gallons from 31,000 to 50,000 gallons and $2.14 after 51,000 gallons.

The city does rate increases annually in five-year cycles. The last one was April 1 at 3.5%. It is currently contracting for a rate study update.

"We are still one of the least expensive water systems" in North Idaho," Pickel wrote.

Coeur d'Alene's Parks Department is the largest user of water, followed by the Coeur d'Alene School District.

Residential is the city's largest user group in the summer, where it is seeing overall summer consumption doubling every five to seven years.

Water demand is expected to remain high as hot and dry conditions, with more days over 90 degrees, are in the forecast. Less than an inch of rain fell in June.

Irrigation accounts for more than 70% of the city's summer use, and at least 40% to 50% of that is wasted due to system inefficiency and not adjusting irrigation systems to match actual watering needs, Pickel said.

"I would urge our customers to be aware of proper system maintenance, repairs and matching replacement heads," Pickel wrote.

He said replacing outdated sprinkler heads with the new matched precipitation models, which use about half the water while providing the same or better coverage, would help.

"They replace the actual sprinkler head without having to replace the entire body, very simple to do," Pickel wrote.