Water worries surface

Every standard load of laundry requires 41 gallons of water — enough drinking water to keep a single person going for a month and a half.

In a city of 7,900 people, that adds up to a lot of water over the course of a month, said Port Orchard City Councilman John Clauson. Assuming 10 loads of laundry a week for a family of four — an industry average — the city uses approximately 3.2 million gallons each month just to clean its dirty clothes. The rest goes to cooking, drinking, bathing, washing the car and watering the lawn — a total figure that tops 20 million gallons a month on average.

Clauson, chair of the city council’s water and sewer committee, said hot weather of the sort the city’s been experiencing recently just exacerbates the situation. In the first 10 days of June — ostensibly the start of the recent trend toward heat and drought — Port Orchard’s water usage jumped 37 percent over usage during that same period last year. The amount, said Clauson, was no drop in the bucket.

“That’s almost three million gallons of water more,” he said. “The weather is putting a strain on our water system.”

Clauson wants to bring that figure down somewhat — preferably by finding a way to bring water-efficient appliances into more Port Orchard homes.

“I would like to see the city provide some incentive for the residents to move towards conservation one way or another,” he said.

“We’ve already provided the stick,” Clauson added, referring to the city’s recent water rate hike.

One way to offset the ever-increasing water demand, he said, is to simply have people use low-water, side-load washing machines. Although it seems like a small change to make, Clauson explained, the new high-efficiency washers use up to 68 percent less water per load. And the savings add up, he said.

According to Whirlpool, a random washing machine company Clauson selected to base his research on, the average household can save 12,000 gallons a year by switching to a high-efficiency washer. If only 2,000 Port Orchard homes converted to the new washers, Clauson said, the city would pump out an estimated 24 million gallons less water each year.

The city’s average total water output in January is only 18 million gallons.

“That’s outstanding,” he said. “We’d have saved an entire month.”

In addition, newer washers also wring more water out of clothes during the spin cycle, saving money on dryer use as well.

The catch is, the new machines aren’t cheap.

At Nielsen’s Appliance Center in Port Orchard, old-style washers start at $350. The new, high-efficiency washers start at $600.

In an effort to encourage people to try the new washers, many manufacturers and even some state agencies have offered rebates in the past. Up until yesterday, Puget Sound Energy offered a $100 rebate on high-efficiency washers, which would have brough the before-tax price down to $500.

Recognizing that long-term savings is irrelevant if a household can’t afford the purchase price of its new washer, Clauson is trying to encourage city officials to start up their own rebate program. He hopes a little financial incentive might be all that’s needed for residents to make the switch.

“Maybe it’ll be just enough to get people to shift over, to get them to think about it,” Clauson said. “When it comes time for me to change over my washer and dryer, I’m definitely going after one of the new ones.”

The issue runs deeper than simply being a good citizen and not letting the water run.

Port Orchard is locked in a continual struggle over new water sources. Although the city’s deep wells — 500 feet deep in some cases — have never yet run dry, Port Orchard officials are worried the area’s booming growth may soon require more water than the city wells can provide.

The city has been waiting for the state to approve new water rights since 1992. New water rights would presumably solve the problem of potential future shortages, but Clauson said there’s no guarantee the extra rights will come soon enough.

“We have to verify and prove that the new well will not take one drop of water from one creek somewhere,” he said.

Meanwhile, Clauson added, “we continue to use more and more water.”

As part of a long-running agreement, Port Orchard can buy water from Bremerton if it needs to. But, as Clauson pointed out, Bremerton gets its water primarily from surface-based sources, not wells. When things get dry, he explained, surface water is the first to go.

Port Orchard has never had to take measures such as restricting households to outdoor water usage on certain days or other drought-combating methods employed elsewhere during the summer. Nevertheless, the city wants to do everything possible to ensure it never has to.

“At this point, we’re certainly concerned about it,” Clauson said. “I would just encourage people to conserve year-round, period.”

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