by DANIEL WALTERS & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen Mayor Mary Verner suggested regulating the free-reign of Spokane's summer sprinklers, it was the political equivalent of tossing a beehive on a paint shaker. City council members were swarmed with complaints: One of the major arguments was that Spokane doesn't need to worry about water consumption, because it doesn't have a water crisis.

True. Spokane isn't Texas. Spokane isn't South Florida, where residents are forced to limit their watering to two days a week, and golf courses have been required to trim their water use by 30 percent. Yes, officially, Spokane doesn't have a water crisis. But there's the unspoken "yet" hanging over that statement.

"You don't want to wait until you have a water shortage and then try to implement our water conservation program," said City Council President Joe Shogan at a July 10 meeting.

Experts can't predict the exact moment when Spokane's usage will begin sucking water from the aquifer faster than winter snows will replace it. Instead, water conservation advocates point to low Spokane River levels during the summer. As the aquifer shrinks, so does the Spokane River sitting on top of it. The river's mighty roar dwindles to a dribble, replaced by the hissing of a thousand summer sprinklers.

River levels aren't just about having postcard-worthy waterfalls. Water temperature, purity, speed and oxygen levels all worsen when river levels get lower and slower, says city spokeswoman Marlene Feist. Fish die. Algae blooms.

In the time since the proposal first went public, several aspects have been reworked. The idea that even-numbered addresses can water only on even-numbered days, and odd-numbered houses on odd days, was swiftly discarded. Too complicated. And any punitive measures may not be enacted until three years later.

"The whole idea is you educate, educate, educate, and in about year three, you say, 'That's enough education,'" Shogan says. "And then you enforce."

Spokane residents average about 217 gallons per day, almost double the state average of 114. Western Washington may be rainier, but the grass is actually yellower on the west side, says Seattle resident Janet Nazy, executive director for the Partnership for Water Conversation. "You have to really burn [the grass] out in order for it to die," Nazy says. "'Brown is beautiful,' we say."

For those who find the idea of a less-than-lush lawn heretical, Nazy suggests other measures. No longer are low-flow showerheads and toilets synonymous with "water torture." Technology has improved to where low-flow fixtures have enough pressure to get the job done, Nazy says.

Meanwhile, to highlight how the big-time commercial water users are saving water (or in some cases not), The Inlander presents its second annual look at our city's Top 20 water hogs.

Last year, each company on our list dutifully explained why they used so gosh-darn much water and how they planned to fix it. Now it's the moment of reckoning. Despite their promises, Spokane's top commercial water users used almost 248 million gallons more this year. Some blame the previous sweltering summer. Some credit an increase in business. Others fault phantom leaks or even water meter malfunctions.

Keep in mind these figures -- based on the year-long period between June 1 of last year and the end of May of this year -- are just for the city of Spokane and just for commercial water users. As much as we'd love to stamp a few Scarlet Letters on the top water-wasting private households, Washington state law keeps residential water-hogging records private. If you lived in Florida, where such information is public, you water-wasters wouldn't be so lucky.


& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 1 & lt;/span & . City of Spokane Wastewater Treatment Plant

Gallons: 189,431,000

Equivalent: 579 low-flow toilet flushes for every person in Spokane

Previous Rank: 1

Change: 79,108,480 gallons less than in '07

It may seem counterintuitive that the Wastewater Treatment Plant needs tap water. After all you make "water donations" -- toilet flushes -- to the wastewater plant on a regular basis. Except even after the cleansing process, the water still isn't clean enough to use for certain processes in the plant, director Dale Arnold says.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the decrease: By damping the odors at their pump station in Peaceful Valley, the amount of water needed to clean the crud off the walls was reduced. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: By improving their filtering system. Cleaner water can be used for more tasks. After their next big upgrade in 2014, Arnold estimates the plant's tap water needs will be cut neatly in half. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 2 & lt;/span & . Sacred Heart Medical Center

Gallons: 180,076,512

Equivalent: 1.4 billion syringes of morphine

Previous Rank: 2

Change: 15,561,392 gallons more than '07

Besides the constant stream of showers, laundry and food service, Sacred Heart's cooling and heating system uses a lot of water. Much of that water, says Philip Kercher, facilities manager, simply evaporates.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the increase: Kercher sticks the blame squarely on Sacred Heart's success. Kercher says with more patients increasingly choosing Sacred Heart, usage is up. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: Kercher says one secret lies in proper chemical treatment. By preventing hard water buildup from clogging the pipes, the system becomes that much more efficient. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 3 & lt;/span & . Airway Heights

Gallons: 159,638,160

Equivalent: About one Olympic-sized swimming pool for every two Airway Heights residents

Previous Rank: 3

Change: 43,468,524 gallons more than in '07

When the Airway Heights municipal wells can't operate at full capacity, the city comes knocking at the door of its Spokane neighbor, looking to buy a few extra gallons.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the change: City Manager Albert Tripp isn't ready to finger excess consumption as the culprit. "There could be a varied assortment of reasons. There could be leaks in the infrastructure itself," Tripp says. "It could be a variance in the meters." & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: Airway Heights' conservation policy is simple: The more you use, the more you pay. Their rate systems, for residential, commercial and industrial users, are tiered. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 4 & lt;/span & . Gonzaga University

Gallons: 116,169,636

Equivalent: 7.5 million kegs

Previous Rank: 4

Change: 11,779,132 gallons more than in '07

More than 4,000 undergrads attend Gonzaga. All those Bulldogs lap up a lot of water. With 120 acres of property, add sprinkler systems and lawn care to the total.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the increase: "That sounds like a lot of water, but it isn't," says Ken Sammons, director of plant and construction services. Gonzaga's efforts to conserve water have been outstripped by water-consuming additions. In the past year the university opened a new residence hall, turned two blocks of Boone Avenue into lawn and relocated its master meters to pick up the water bill of several other properties. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: Using the usual water-saving bathroom facilities, and by trading their water-cooled air conditioning for air-conditioned air conditioning. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 5 & lt;/span & . Sans Souci West Mobile Homes

Gallons: 86,042,440

Equivalent: Take the average mobile home, lop off the roof, and start pouring in water until the column of water reaches two miles high.

Previous Rank: 7

Change: 10,793,640 gallons more than in '07

A mobile home park? Yes. San Souci West, with its 213 "manufactured homes" spread across 50 acres, uses more water than each community college, any given Spokane golf course, or any Spokane apartment complex. It adds up to 748 gallons per person per day -- more than double what the average Spokanite uses.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the increase: Pat Davey, chairman of the property management committee, suspects leaks. But he hasn't yet seen any. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: They've hired a company to come out and see if it can detect any leaks underneath the roadway. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 6 & lt;/span & . Spokane Falls Community College

Gallons: 84,174,684

Equivalent: The amount that goes over the Lower Spokane Falls in 4 minutes, 24 seconds

Previous Rank: 6

Change: 2,014,364 gallons less than in '07

Spokane has two community colleges, and both made the list. The campuses of both Spokane Community College (No. 10 on the list, below) and Spokane Falls Community College are larger than 120 acres -- the size of a large golf course.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the decrease: While SFCC's water usage decreased slightly, the real success story is at SCC, where annual water use plummeted by 30 million gallons. Why? Greg Plummer, the community college district's director of facilities, isn't exactly sure. "We must be doing something better." Plummer floats a few possibilities: They're using drip systems instead of sprinklers to water shrubs and replacing grassy fields with bark and rock. They tried waterless urinals. They didn't work. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: Last year, Plummer said he wanted to hire an energy-resource conservation manager, but didn't have money. Now, he says he's raised enough to pay half the salary. "I feel that a resource conservation manager can save us anywhere from 5 to 20 percent," Plummer says. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 7 & lt;/span & . The Creek at Qualchan Golf Course

Gallons: 70,012,800

Equivalent: About enough to fill the entire Qualchan Golf Course with 11.5 inches of water

Previous Rank: 8

Change: 3,814,800 gallons more than in '07

Golf is a thirsty game, and Qualchan's standing as top golf course water user comes from the sheer area -- more than 225 acres.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the increase: Golf courses are slaves to the tyranny of the weather, Qualchan superintendent Mark Nord says. Last summer's dry spell required more water than usual. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: Qualchan features a weather station to monitor the evaporation rate. Nord waters the minimum necessary to replace what's evaporated, he says. Nord also says the wastewater plant is running an experiment at Qualchan and Downriver, using filtered effluent to water the grass. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 8 & lt;/span & . Hollister-Stier Laboratories

Gallons: 63,975,692

Equivalent: Enough to fill a giant novelty test tube 93 feet in diameter to the height of the Empire State Building

Previous Rank: 16

Change: 16,536,784 gallons more than in '07

Hollister-Stier Laboratories manufactures, among other sciencey-sounding things, biological proteins, liposomes and vaccines. "Part of the manufacturing process is sterilizing everything and anything," environmental health and safety officer Joe Holland says.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the increase: "A big proportion of it is just an increase in production," Holland says, "We've increased our employees by 30 percent." The Spokane facility is one of Hollister-Stier's fastest growing facilities, Holland says. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: Holland says Hollister-Stier is considering donating its excess water -- water that's not sterile enough to be reused for cleaning -- to water soccer fields for the Spokane Youth Sports Association. It won't save on Hollister-Stier's water bill, but it will help SYSA's. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 9 & lt;/span & . Inland Northwest Dairies

Gallons: 62,967,388

Equivalent: At the dairy's production rate of 93,000 gallons of milk a day, it would take 677 days to make as much milk as its annual water use.

Previous Rank: 9

Change: 1,659,064 gallons less than in '07

"Everything we have to completely clean -- all of our pasteurizing equipment, homogenizing equipment, storage tanks, all of our bottling equipment," purchasing agent Mike Deakins says.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the decrease: Deakins credits the decision to turn off the company's hoses when people weren't using them -- a novel concept -- and installing more efficient equipment. That includes refrigerated drinking fountains to keep water chilled without needing to be constantly running. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: IND has scheduled a water audit to see if it can cut even more. "We're constantly trying to economize, not only for the ecological thing, but for the cost savings," Deakins says. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 10 & lt;/span & . Spokane Community College

Gallons: 62,697,360

Equivalent: 1,161 Big Gulps for every citizen of Spokane

Previous Rank: 5

Change: 33,891,880 gallons less than in '07

See No. 6, above.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 11 & lt;/span & . Downriver Golf Course

Gallons: 58,089,680

Equivalent: Enough to fulfill the annual lawn-watering needs of 23,235 average families

Previous Rank: 18

Change: 11,326,216 gallons more than in '07

Superintendent Roy Cheney says the greens are especially susceptible to heat. Sprinklers water at night, and the greens are regularly "syringed" with water during the day.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the increase: Last year's dry, hot summer is driving up the yearly total. Since January 1, 2008, Cheney says, Downriver has used 11 million gallons less than in same period of 2007. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: For a golf course, Cheney says, water's like air -- a non-negotiable. "You've got to breathe so much air," he says. "And you can't conserve air." & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 12 & lt;/span & . Esmeralda Golf Course

Gallons: 57,794,220

Equivalent: Enough to run an Old Faithful eruption for 21 and a half days

Previous Rank: 10

Change: 4,283,796 gallons less than in '07

Esmeralda's only about half the size of Qualchan, but they don't have Qualchan's fancy-schmancy evapotranspiration detection system. Instead, says superintendent Bob Mielke, they water the old fashioned way: They eyeball the grass, guess the amount of water it needs and then lug hoses and sprinklers to the proper locations.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the decrease: Mielke was surprised to hear that Esmeralda used less water this year than last. He says the difference might have come from cutting back on drinking fountains and choosing not to water the rough areas. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: Since the experiment in not watering rough areas was unsuccessful, the only thing Mielke figures they can really do is to shell out for an automatic sprinkler system like the newer courses. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 13 & lt;/span & . Goodrich Aerospace

Gallons: 55,207,636

Equivalent: The total volume of 2,592 DC-10 airplanes

Previous Rank: 14

Change: 7,649,796 gallons more than in '07

The Spokane Goodrich Aerospace factory makes carbon brakes for airplanes. Media Relations Manager Laurie Tardif says the manufacturing process requires cooling towers to cool the furnace and boilers to create steam for the high-tech manufacturing process.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the increase: Tardif says that the reason for increased water use is that manufacturing is up. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: Recently, Goodrich has tightened the manufacturing process, condensing and recirculating the steam. They also installed a more efficient treatment system. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 14 & lt;/span & . Deaconess Medical Center

Gallons: 54,025,796

Equivalent: Five Exxon Valdez oil spills (but water, not oil)

Previous Rank: 11

Change: 6,200,920 gallons less than in '07

"The majority of the water is used by staff and patients for domestic use," spokeswoman Christine Varela says. It's the usual toll of showers, food prep and drinking water for 250 patients and around 1,700 total people.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the decrease: The theory that patients are flocking to Sacred Heart (which had an increase) doesn't hold, Varela says. Patient numbers have remained fairly constant. Instead, Varela cites Deaconess's energy conservation initiatives, which began in 2004. The mechanical systems had their innards tinkered with, requiring less water to feed the boiler. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: Deaconess's employee newsletter regularly offers environmental conservation tips, Varela says, as do posters on walls and friendly reminders on employee screensavers. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 15 & lt;/span & . Manito Golf and Country Club

Gallons: 53,811,120

Equivalent: About enough to fill the entire course with 1 foot 8 inches of water

Previous Rank: 12

Change: 1,341,912 gallons more than in '07

Chalk it up to the usual cost of keeping greens green and fairways fair, plus enough water for the clubhouse, restaurant and swimming pool, says assistant superintendent Shane Cox.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the increase: Water use varies according to the whims of weather, Cox says, enough that he can't blame any one thing. If anything, he says, Manito has used less water in the first half of 2008 due to a long winter. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: Several parts of the golf course have native plants that don't require hydration, Cox says. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 16 & lt;/span & . Mt. Vernon Terrace Apartment Complex

Gallons: 51,709,240

Equivalent: Enough to send 344,728 cars through a car wash

Previous Rank: 17

Change: 4,600,200 gallons more than in '07

Mt. Vernon Terrace features 99 apartment units, full of tenants taking baths and washing dishes (Mt. Vernon lacks dishwashers).

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the increase: "I'm not sure. I actually honestly don't really know," assistant manager Tanya Vardapetyan says. Mt. Vernon has a strict policy forbidding using apartment water to wash cars, but Vardapetyan says she catches some tenants sneaking the occasional car wash anyway. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: Vardapeytan says Avista came out to the complex and checked the water flow. Avista also installed water flow regulators in Mt. Vernon's faucet, she says. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 17 & lt;/span & . Prairie Hills Apartments

Gallons: 46,540,560

Equivalent: Enough for 1,108,108 loads of laundry

Previous Rank: 13

Change: 3,515,600 gallons less than in '07

Take Prairie Hills' 400 tenants, each with their own washing machine, throw in a dash of sprinkler system and a pool, and you've got a recipe for massive water consumption.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the decrease: "I really couldn't tell you," assistant manager Ken Kortness says. "Everything's the same." The pool opened later this year, which could be part of it, he says. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: They're not, unless the tenants are especially eco-conscious. Kortness says that Prairie Hills pays for tenant utilities, so there's nothing stopping them from, say, letting the shower run just for the calming sound. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 18 & lt;/span & . Spokane Waste to Energy Plant

Gallons: 45,737,956

Equivalent: Enough to fill 113,227 standard dumpsters

Previous Rank: 20

Change: 759,220 gallons more than in '07

Russ Menke, interim director of solid waste, says most water is lost cooling the flue of the furnace. Water's also used to soak excess incinerator ash.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the slight increase: Menke says the increase in the amount of water used is negligible. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: By changing the way they handle the ash, Menke says, the process needs less water. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 19 & lt;/span & . Cedar Creek Village Apartments

Gallons: 42,890,320

Equivalent: A single shower, with a regular non-flow head, lasting about 32 years, 7 months, 15 days. Not counting shave time.

Previous Rank: 19

Change: 2,101,880 gallons less than in '07

Let's tick off the water-draining factors: 416 one- or two-bedroom apartments, 20 acres of lawn, four laundry facilities, a weight room and a beauty shop.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the decrease: Resident manager Cindy Dolinger isn't sure. "Maybe we're conserving out there, but we're not aware of it." & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: While Cedar Creek uses low-flow toilets and showerheads, Dolinger says water consumption is mostly left to its tenants. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & 20 & lt;/span & . Greystone Planned Unit Development

Gallons: 41,184,880

Equivalent: Enough to fill 82,369 five-person Jacuzzis

Previous Rank: not ranked

Change: 2,139,280 gallons less than in '07

As part of a planned community, the 197 houses of Greystone and nearby Birkdale pool their water meters into one massive megabill.

& lt;ul &

& lt;li & Why the decrease: Among other reasons, Greystone Homeowners Association president Jennifer Reed says the long winter delayed the start of sprinkler season. & lt;/li &

& lt;li & How they're saving it: The association doesn't order Greystone water conservation with a hard-and-fast rule, but it does offer advice. Reed asks residents to water only three days a week, at night, and only for 10 to 20 minutes. & lt;/li &

& lt;/ul &

Juneteenth at Spark Central @ Spark Central

Sat., June 19, 12-7 p.m.
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