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SEATTLE — Water supplies in Western Washington will shrink by as much as 25 percent over the next decade, but with new sources and conservation there should be enough for the next 40 or 50 years, according to new studies.
Water managers in Seattle, Tacoma and Everett all expect they can adjust their water systems to make sure there's enough water for everyone, as long as fast-growing cities like Bellevue start to seek their own source of drinking water.
"We could use water even more efficiently, and I would love to see that before we turn to new sources," said Richard Palmer, a University of Washington engineering professor who helped build some of the computer models used for the water research.
"But, at some point, if population doubles in this region, there's not sufficient stored water right now to meet double the demand," he told The Seattle Times.
Smaller utilities or areas outside King, Snohomish and Pierce counties weren't covered by the studies and the full impact of global warming in the region hasn't been gauged. Plus the research didn't examine how water supply from wells could be affected.
The studies found that by 2075 the three utilities of Seattle, Tacoma and Everett together could lose as much as 16 percent of its water supply or 77 million gallons a day compared with today's supplies.
Seattle is more vulnerable Ñ expected to lose as much as 25 percent Ñ because it relies almost entirely on water from rivers, rather than groundwater. Those rivers won't be able to fill reservoirs quickly while enough water volume is left flowing for fish, Palmer said.
Seattle is already working to change how it operates its reservoirs to get more water out of them, said Paul Fleming, manager of climate-change initiatives for Seattle Public Utilities.
That includes putting more water into two Cedar River reservoirs and taking more water from behind the dam on the south fork of the Tolt River.
"We've got these buckets, and we're trying to use more of the buckets," Fleming said of the reservoirs.
Seattle officials predicted that should be enough to meet demand in 2050, even under the worst-case scenario they considered.
Farther into the future, in 2075, the city predicts it will have to resort to other measures such as more-aggressive water conservation or finding more water supplies.
Even for 2050, however, Seattle is banking on extra water that would be freed up by Eastside cities creating their own water utility and weaning themselves from Seattle-supplied water.
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