Local organization fights for water conservation and sustainable aquifer solutions – The Daily Evergreen
Pullman’s population increased by 51%; groundwater pumping increased by only 16%
The Palouse area’s main water source is shrinking seven-tenths of a foot each year, and a volunteer committee is working to make it more sustainable through alternative water sources.
The Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee is responsible for ensure a long-term quality water supply for the Palouse region, according to the committee website.
The Palouse gets all of its drinking water from two underground aquifers, said Paul Kimmell, chair of the PBAC’s communications subcommittee and director of business and public affairs for Avista Utilities.
“[An aquifer] lies below us in a series of fissures and fissures between volcanic basalt flows,” Kimmell said. “So it’s not like there’s just this giant pool of water below us – it’s scattered and diverse.”
Communities in the area use wells to drill between these basalt layers and access drinking water, Kimmell said.
Community members from WSU, the University of Idaho, Pullman and Moscow formed the PBAC in 1967 to address concerns about declining groundwater levels, Kimmell said..
Since then, PBAC has played a leading role in water conservation on the Palouse and has grown to encompass the cities of Colfax and Palouse, Kimmell said.
The committee created the Palouse Basin Groundwater Management Plan in 1992 with the goal of conserving water through a community-wide effort, he said.
When the committee began monitoring the annual level of aquifer decline, about one and a half feet of water was used each year. Today, only seven tenths of a foot are used each year, he said.
Despite a 51% population growth in Pullman, groundwater pumping has only increased 16%, Kimmell said.
“Things are going very well, but we are still in a state of decline,” he said.
WSU and UI have installed showerheads, water faucets and toilets that use less water to help conserve water, Kimmell said.
UI has used treated wastewater to irrigate its fields and lawns since the 1970s, said Robin Nimmer, senior hydrologist, project manager and head of the water resources division for Alta Science & Engineering in Moscow.
Nimmer has been involved with PBAC for about a decade and professionally involved with the project for a year and a half, she said. by Nimmer other projects include ground and surface water monitoring and water supply for individuals and communities.
Despite excellent conservation efforts on the Palouse, the amount of groundwater in aquifers is drastically decreasing each year. PBAC wants to find an alternate water source to supplement the aquifer, Kimmell said.
An alternative is to divert water from the Snake River, Nimmer said.
The second alternative is to divert water from Paradise Creek and the North Fork of the Palouse River. That water would then be treated at Pullman and piped to Pullman and Moscow, she said.
The third and fourth alternatives both involve diverting water from a local river or stream, treating it in Pullman or Moscow, and using it directly in the city it comes from, said Nimmer.
Nimmer said she will present her report on the four alternatives to the PBAC in June.
“Some pools don’t have the luxury that we have. They have to build 100 or 200 mile pipelines,” Kimmell said. “We have water sources in the basin that we think we can tap into and help us reduce some of that water usage.”
Nimmer said PBAC evaluates each option based on cost, time, environmental impact and other factors.
“We have no bias against each other. We let science, engineers and hydrologists guide us through this,” Kimmell said.
In fall 2021, PBAC conducted a survey to gauge community awareness and interest in water conservation efforts, Kimmell said. The survey found that one-third of respondents were definitely interested in water conservation, one-third were slightly interested and a third were not interested.
“We need to stay engaged as a region,” Kimmell said. “Whether it is water or air services, there is strength in this regional collaboration.