Cheney Free Press -

By John McCallum

The efficient use of water

Cheney water use plan puts the conservation onus on reducing irrigation


Last updated 7/13/2017 at 8:58am

Once the dust from other issues has settled, Cheney officials will revisit a water conservation plan for the city.

Municipalities are required to produce and implement water conservation measures under the Water Use Efficiency (WUE) rule, which was part of the Municipal Water Law passed in 2003. Under the WUE, Cheney must establish a water use plan and savings goals for customers, evaluate and implement specific measures to achieve these goals and report annual progress.

The city held a public hearing May 2 on proposed measures and goals, and submitted a draft plan to the state Department of Health, Public Works Director Todd Ableman said. The plan includes everything from information on population estimates to existing and proposed infrastructure details, current water use and patterns to future projections.

According to city information, Cheney uses an average of 1.69 million gallons per day. Without WUE measures, that is projected to increase to nearly 2.3 million gallons per day by 2036. With conservation, that projection drops to around 2.15 million gallons.

Cheney operates eight wells, two that meet the city’s water needs year-round with the other six brought on line during the May-October irrigation season to handle increased demand. During peak uses, the city pumps just over 2,900 gallons per minute of its 5,400 gallons per minute water right, meaning additional wells could be drilled to handle demand increases, at an estimated $1.5 million – $2 million per well.

“We want to utilize conservation as a method of controlling the pumping resources we have,” Ableman said.

Data presented at the May meeting indicate Cheney households have an average use of 339 gallons per day, with 59 percent of that — 198 gallons — going to irrigation. This contrasts with a reported U.S. statistical average of 300 gallons per day, with 30 percent being used for irrigation.

Cheney officials are focusing a lot of conservation measures on reducing irrigation. Information at the public hearing claimed the city could save 30 percent of what it currently uses for irrigation if customers would follow an industry standard of 1 inch per week during the 21-week irrigation season for an average single-family lot size of 8,000 square feet.

Rex Bishop, director of technical education for the National Association of Landscape Professionals said the 1 inch per week is an ideal.

“There are factors that play into that,” he added.

Those factors include the type of turf installed, since some grasses are better at surviving drought conditions than others. The amount of rain a region receives should be taken into account as well.

“If you get a half inch of rainfall, it would be nice to put another half inch on that,” Bishop said.

Other proposed measures include irrigation schedules and water audits for large users, use of reclaimed water from the city’s treatment plant and utilization of landscapes that use more native plants and vegetation that require little water. Cheney could save an additional 5–10 percent in indoor use through requirements such as using more low-flow fixtures and water efficient appliances.

The city has been implementing its own measures through increased leak detection and replacement of older water mains. That has helped it meet its WUE requirement of accounting for at least 90 percent of the water produced.

In 2016, Cheney achieved a 91 percent rating.

One consideration brought up by attendees at the public hearing was placing restrictions, even a moratorium, on residential growth in the city, particularly multifamily developments. Of the 503 million gallons sold in 2016, 40 percent was by single-family users, with multifamily accounting for 32 percent.

Ableman said while growth is part of the discussion, other steps present more likely solutions.

“They’re always asking ‘are we out of water?’” he said. “No, we’re not out of water. We need to take a step back and look at usage. Can we conserve and not go drill another well to use three months out of the year?”

John McCallum can be reached at

Author Bio

John McCallum, Managing Editor

John McCallum is an award-winning journalist who has been with the Cheney Free Press for over 20 years. He has received 10 Washington Newspaper Publisher Association awards for journalism and photography, including first place awards for Best Investigative, Best News and back-to-back awards in Best Breaking News categories. He has been serving as editor of the Spokane Valley News Herald since March 2020.

Phone: 509-235-6184
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