New research on area aquifers provides hope — and baseline for further studiesin 2006, despite seeing consistent growth of 1 percent or more over the past several years.
The Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee has a better understanding of the Moscow-Pullman area’s water systems after performing its first official studies in four years.
PBAC, a local multi-entity agency charged with finding ways to stabilize the area’s water supply, recently published a report on its findings.
PBAC Executive Director Steve Robischon presented the new data during a Moscow Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday.
The report suggested some good news concerning water use. Robischon said Moscow fell within its suggested water-usage levels for the first time
Robischon said pumping in the area is under PBAC’s self-imposed levels, which were set in 1992. Three billion gallons were drawn from the aquifers in 2006.
The reports and studies provide a better understanding of well levels throughout the Palouse Basin. It also provided data on the depth of the aquifers, the northern boundary of the Grande Ronde aquifer, the effects pumping has on other wells, sediment layers in potential recharge areas, and the addition of four monitoring wells.
One study suggests Moscow and Pullman are located on the edge of the shallow and deep aquifer systems and that the aquifers become deeper west of Moscow.
Another study shows the deep aquifer, the Grande Ronde, does not go north of Kamiak Butte.
In one study, PBAC researchers monitored water levels while Moscow, Pullman, Washington State University and the University of Idaho had simultaneously stopped pumping.
The results showed that pumping from Pullman and WSU did not cause well levels around Moscow to decrease. But when Moscow turned on its pumps, it caused a decrease in a well halfway between the cities.
A Latah County study found a potential recharge site northeast of Moscow around Paradise Creek and the South Fork of the Palouse River had too much clay between the sediment layer and basalt to be an aquifer recharge zone.
Robischon said pump readings haven’t been very accurate because pumping in or near the wells still occurred when measurements were taken.
The newest readings suggest aquifer decline may be slowing.
To document better readings, PBAC spent more than $400,000 to drill four new test wells at various depths to read water levels without the presence of other active wells.
Michael Echanove, mayor of Palouse and chairman of PBAC’s Citizens Advisory Group, said PBAC has gained momentum in the last year, mainly due to Robischon’s presence.
“Steve Robischon is a real gem,” Echanove said. “He’s really been instrumental in helping PBAC get moving toward developing a comprehensive study of the area.”
Echanove is confident that PBAC and the Palouse Basin residents can stabilize the aquifer systems and secure a sustained water supply for future generations.
Moscow Chamber of Commerce President Mike Nelson was encouraged by PBAC’s progress and the fact that Moscow finally came within its water-use allotment.
Nelson said “coffee-pot rumors” had questioned PBAC’s progress over the last several years. The new information shows that the organization is making headway.
Robischon said the different research findings came together at the same time. Historically, most of PBAC’s money has been spent on monitoring well levels. A general lack of funding has limited the amount of research that can be done.
Robischon said PBAC’s member municipalities may be willing to increase funding now that it has provided some new research data.
Robischon doesn’t expect any new studies to be completed in the next year. The monitoring of wells north of Moscow could provide more understanding of water levels in the area.
WHAT HAPPENED: A representative from the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee shared the organization’s first findings in several years with the Moscow Chamber of Commerce.
WHAT IT MEANS: Pumping levels suggest aquifer levels consistently decline. New research begins to give clarity to the situation and provides a baseline for future research. It also could give direction to area leaders in policy-making decisions regarding water usage.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: PBAC will continue to monitor well levels to better understand the area’s aquifer levels and how pumping from certain wells affects other wells.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: It has been said that water will be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century. The area’s water supply could be affected without a clear understanding of the situation. I took two things out of this report:
[UPDATE: April, as usual, makes an excellent observation:
There is no imminent water crisis. Common sense conservation measures seem to be paying off. If anyone is causing a water problem on the Palouse, it is Moscow. They had better consider the mote in their own eye before they point out the splinter in Whitman County's eye.
The Daily News writer sort of missed in his reporting. If Moscow had stayed within their goals, Moscow would have saved over 600 million gallons of water over that 14 year period. If Moscow would have used less than their goal, as Pullman, WSU and the U of I did, there would be over a billion more gallons of water in the aquifer. There is something about the numbers that makes me think that the rest of us are conserving water so that Moscow can use it.]