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Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward vetoes water restriction ordinance; What now?

City council and the mayor agree we need to conserve water, but the sticking point has been how to enforce this.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane City Council's plan to conserve water during the hot summer months hit a roadblock Thursday after Mayor Nadine Woodward vetoed the ordinance council just passed.

In response, council will consider overriding the veto at its meeting on Monday. It needs five votes do this and Council President Breean Beggs is confident the override will pass. 

The water conservation ordinance was first introduced to Spokane City Council on May 16. City council and the mayor agree we need to conserve water, but the sticking point has been how to enforce this.

The first version of the ordinance included penalties, such as a $20 surcharge to a violator's water bill if they water their lawn outside of the approved hours. Then, council member Michael Cathcart later proposed a version with incentives to use less water.

But, at council's most recent meeting, it approved a version of the ordinance that does not include fines or incentives. It now primarily hinges on voluntary compliance. But, the Mayor still vetoed this ordinance Thursday, which means city council now has 30 days to consider overriding that veto.

This is only Mayor Woodward's second veto since she's taken office. She said in this case, her veto is symbolic because council does have the votes to override it.

"It's not something that I do regularly, it's not something I do lightly," Woodward said. "But I don't want to create a culture of neighbors telling on neighbors."

To be clear, as the current ordinance reads, there are no fees or other penalties for those who violate the restrictions. And, without an enforcement component to the ordinance, Beggs said the city is relying on residents to follow the law. 

"We are putting our trust in our typical Spokane person that they want to follow the law just like people don't go, for the most part, speeding through neighborhoods," Beggs said. 

If city council overrides the mayor's veto, the ordinance will go into effect in June 2023.

In that case, Beggs said the ordinance establishes a focused effort for the water department to educate residents on how much water usage is allowed and when. After the ordinance has been in effect for 18 months, he said the water department will report to council what worked or didn't work.

Then, a likely change to the ordinance would be increasing water rates for those who use more water than average, according to Beggs. 

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