Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"P&Z commission worried about water"

Nice to see Moscow is finally looking at its own water usage issues instead of meddling in Whitman County. I've always said, once Moscow stops allowing new houses to be built, THEN we'll have a water crisis.

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
The Moscow Planning and Zoning Commission will ask the City Council whether it can consider water issues when making land-use decisions.

Chairman Art Bettge said water concerns should be factored into the discussion for new subdivisions, rezones and the like.

"Every development that is approved and is built increases the overall use and depletion of the aquifer," Bettge said after Wednesday's commission meeting.

However, he said the commission risks infringing on private property rights if it bases decisions on water use without the go-ahead from the council.

Commissioners said they would at least like to draw developers' attention to how their proposed projects will use water resources.

"The water issue kind of slips through unrecognized at times," Commissioner Donald Crawford said.

For example, Commissioner Nils Peterson requested a study of how the Legacy Crossing Urban Renewal District would use and conserve water after a presentation on the proposed district during Wednesday's meeting.

"I don't see any concern on the part of this proposal for aligning itself with the extensive mentions of water consumption that are in the current comprehensive plan," Peterson said.

The other commissioners agreed, and voted unanimously for City Supervisor Gary Riedner to include language about water sustainability in the Legacy Crossing plan.

The discussion of making water a formal part of land-use decisions arose after the city's water conservation specialist, Nichole Baker, gave a presentation on city water-use trends.

Baker's data showed that Moscow met its Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee overall water-use goals in 2006 and 2007 and that per capita water usage is lower now than it was in the 1990s. The city has increased its water conservation efforts in recent years by offering free tools like water-saving shower heads. The city also has encouraged water conservation by imposing a tiered rate system that charges a higher rate for those who use large amounts of water.

Bettge said the data shows Moscow is doing something right.

"That says that despite development, a good many more subdivisions and things like that, we're using less than we were," he said.

He said the city must continue to manage its water use as it grows. He suggested further adjusting the tiered water rates to curb the few households using substantial amounts of water.

The commission also briefly discussed a city water budget. The City Council made developing a budget one of its goals for this year.

Crawford said the council needs to give the planning and zoning commission information about what actually will be done to develop that budget.

"We hear the city's going to develop a water budget and we hear that and we hear that and we hear that, and the issue's not going away," he said.

Bettge said he would prefer not to have a water budget until the city has more solid data on how quickly the Palouse's major aquifer, the Grand Ronde, is being depleted. A state study slated for 2011 could help provide that information.

"Unless you know how much is in the aquifer, you could establish a tight water budget and it still wouldn't mean anything," he said.

The council could approve a resolution allowing the commission to factor water use into its decisions in the meantime. Bettge said some form of direction is vital.

"We could get into an endless discussion of water in public hearings and other than having a nice discussion about water, we can't go any further than that," he said.

Moscow developer Rick Beebe said water should be part of land-use discussions.

"Water issues are something we consider in virtually everything we do right now," he said, adding that developers also should consider issues such as how their development addresses transportation and energy use.

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