Parks Department issues water advisory

By Ruth Longoria

It's hard to believe that on a city surrounded by liquid, Islanders are being asked to conserve water.

But with the Northwest's mostly dry winter and low snow pack in the mountains, you don't have to be weathercaster Steve Pool to know what to expect as the warmth of summer approaches -- possible drought-like conditions and the risk of wildfires.

Although there haven't been any major wildfires on the Island in recent years, there have been lots of brushfires that have been contained before they got that far, said Island Fire Commander Walt Mauldin.

``Brushfires are fairly common on the Island, most started by cigarettes tossed out of cars,'' Mauldin said.

That can be a problem in places where there are unnaturally dry green spaces, like what can occur in times of drought.

``We've got a unique situation on the Island,'' Mauldin said. ``We've got lots of natural brush and fuel up against structures of huge value that are hard to get to; so, we do worry about drought and we worry about wildfires.''

In addition to recent messages on the city's Web site asking residents to conserve water, last week Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department issued a ``Phase One Water Advisory.'' That means the parks will be using about 10-percent less water for irrigation. Signs have been posted at ballfields and parks to inform users of the regional water shortage and let folks know that athletic fields will continue to be irrigated enough to maintain safe play conditions, reduce dust and protect the community's financial investment in the turf.

Mercer Island gets its water from the Cedar and Tolt river watersheds, which supply water to most of the 1.3 million residents in the 26 cities and water districts that make up the greater Seattle area. The Cedar River watershed is currently at about 23 percent of its normal water level. The Tolt River watershed is at about the 30-percent level, according to Mercer Island's city Web site.

Low levels of water in rivers, streams and area watersheds have local and state officials worried, both about drinking water and water for fish and other wildlife. On March 10, Gov. Christine Gregoire authorized the state Department of Ecology to declare a statewide drought emergency, which put area cities and counties in a drought advisory mode.

There are four levels of drought advisories:

? Phase one means residents are asked to conserve water use in their homes and on lawns, and use less water for washing vehicles.

Future phase levels could include:

? A voluntary stage in which residents are asked to conserve a certain percentage of water use.

? A mandatory stage wherein restrictions or bans are imposed.

? And, an emergency stage when water is rationed.

When Gregoire authorized the emergency declaration, she said: ``We need to start taking action now, and all of us need to be part of the solution.''

Here are some suggestions to conserve water:

? Turn off running water in the sink when not necessary, such as while brushing your teeth.^bd

?^kaShorten shower time.

?^kaWash only full loads of laundry or dishes.

?^kaAvoid pre-rinsing dishes if not necessary.

?^kaFix leaking toilets and faucets.

? Wash vehicles at commercial locations that filter and recycle their water, instead of hand washing using a hose, which may require more water.

?^kaWater outside plants at cooler hours of the day when less water is lost through evaporation.

? Collect rainwater from downspouts in rain barrels for use on plants and vegetation.

? Avoid new landscaping projects in times of drought, as new plant establishment requires larger amounts of water. This includes ``drought-tolerant'' plants, as they take about two years of regular watering to become established.

? Mulch planting beds with two to four inches of course bark or wood chips, to help keep moisture in the soil longer.

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