Although we often complain in Seattle about the amount of rain we get, water shortages are something we can, and do, experience. Our last drought was as recent as 2003. In response, citizens of the Puget Sound water shed have reduced our per capita water usage from 152 gallons per day (gpd) to 97 gpd from 1990 to 2007. Most of our precipitation occurs in winter, and highest usage is in summer. We are reliant on snow-pack in the mountains to act as our water storage system for summer use. Global warning is expected to cause more of our precipitation to fall as rain, rather than snow, and run immediately down to the lakes and Puget Sound. We need to continue to conserve water. To this end the City of Seattle has a water goal: To sustain water quality and quantity in support of human activity and the ecosystem by using our water sources efficiently and with care.
Rain barrels, rain gardens, drought tolerant plants, pervious surfaces, snow pack retention, salmon recovery, these are all terms we often hear in Seattle. More people are moving into our environment and development continues. One result of this ‘progress’ is reduced infiltration rates — more water is being diverted into drains and piped away, and less water is absorbed into the ground to replenish groundwater supplies. Increasing infiltration rates would provide several advantages: providing bio filtration, slowing runoff and hence diminishing erosion, and lessening the need to upgrade storm sewer systems and water treatment plants. Here are some steps we can all take:
Slowing the flow of rainwater:
Install a green roof. This may be too big for some to undertake but, installing a green roof on a storage shed could be a good start. The purpose of the green roof is to absorb the rainfall and slow its movement, lessening its speed and lessening its erosion of hillsides or streams.
Install a rain garden. A rain garden gives the water from the gutters and downspouts a place to be detained. It slows down the flow and the water infiltrates into the ground rather than rushing down the street and into the storm drains.
Collect water for use later:
Install rain barrels, cisterns, or underground catchments. All of these deliver the benefits of a rain garden or green roof and also allow the water to be used in the landscape at a later time.
Use gray water:
Install an underground catchment and pump. This is water from (for instance your washing machine) which is filtered and then held in the catchment for later use. This water could be used to water your plants.
Choose the right plant for the right place:
Proper plant selection will save water. It can be valuable to have a professional design your landscape in order to save in the long run. The selections will include plants that thrive in the PNW, the right plants for the conditions at the site where it will be planted, and plants that are more resistant to pests.
Drink tap water not bottled water:
Seattle residents use the equivalent of about 354,127 pint bottles of water each day. Production of this volume of bottled water requires use of some 40,719 barrels of oil each year, creating about 5,439 tons of greenhouse gases.
Nationally, nine out of every 10 plastic water bottles end up in landfills not in recycling bins. In Seattle, the recycling rate is closer to 49 percent, but those bottles still require huge amounts of energy to produce and transport.