An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Spokane approves limits on lawn watering hottest time of the day

Doug Nadvornick/SPR
City leaders and environmental advocates say Spokane residents need to use less water to protect the Spokane river's ecosystem. Currently the average Spokane resident uses much more water than the national average.

The Spokane City Council has approved a set of water restrictions that will bar people from watering their lawns during the hottest part of the day during the summer months.

The city will educate the public for two years before the new requirements go into effect in 2024.

City leaders such as City Council President Breean Beggs say the requirement is a common-sense measure that protects the Spokane River for future generations.

“It's not banning water, it’s not getting rid of green lawns, it’s not getting rid of vegetable gardens and trees,” Beggs said, “I heard a lot of colorful language, ‘oh it’s going to give you a brown lawn.’ Four days a week is not going to give you a brown lawn in this community under most weather situations. So, we're not talking about that, what we're talking about in this very modest proposal is setting some clear and simple guidelines so that we don't waste water.”

Others, such as city councilman Michael Cathcart, argued the measure is punitive and will encourage people to call code enforcement on their neighbors. Cathcart proposed an alternative approach which was voted down, that would have offered incentives for conserving water.

“I think that would work so much better,” Cathcart said, “It's not a heavy hand. It's not government coming in and telling everybody how you're going to act, how you're going to live your life. No, it's we're going to give you the flexibility to save money and reduce your use which benefits everybody.”

The ordinance is tiered, with the most restrictions going into effect during drought years, when either the city council or the mayor most formally declare a drought emergency. People can obtain exceptions for vegetable gardens, trees and community gardens.

When the requirement goes into effect, people who use excessive amounts of water on their lawn will first get a warning, and then could face fees.

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward has indicated she may veto the restrictions. In a letter Monday, she called the ordinance punitive, saying she would have preferred Cathcart’s incentive based approach.

“I agree and support you in your efforts to reduce water consumption in our city, but this Ordinance is not the way to do it,” she wrote. “I will continue to support and encourage the City and our citizens to adopt sensible water conservation measures like every other day watering. However, I will stop short of penalizing them for non-compliance.”

Five city council members voted for the initial ordinance, which is enough votes to override a veto if those same council members continue to support the new restrictions.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.