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City suffering water worries
By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
Dick Fleming is standing beside what might be Baker Countys prettiest lake, but hes thinking ugly thoughts.
Fleming is Baker Citys public works director.
The lake is Goodrich, and it is the citys only true reservoir.
Yes, there are water tanks on the hill at the southwest corner of the city, but combined they can hold just a little more water than the 6 million gallons the city may pour on the thirstiest summer day.
Goodrich Lake holds about 270 million gallons when its full.
But it isnt full.
Which is why, on a flawless sunny morning last week, Fleming was worried as he strolled along the shore of the lake in the Elkhorn Mountains about 10 miles west of Baker City.
This may be just the second year in which Goodrich, a natural lake the city widened and deepened for use as a reservoir, will not fill.
Jim Adamson, who worked for the city from 1954-94, said the only other year he knows of when Goodrich didnt fill was 1970.
That was the year the city dug its backup well, Adamson said.
Goodrich is about 85 percent full now, Fleming said.
In a normal winter, he said theres sufficient snow in the Elkhorns to fill Goodrich a few times over.
But the mountain snowpack in the winter of 2000-01 was far shallower than normal.
Fleming said he first visited Goodrich in August of 1999. He said there was more snow then than there was in mid June of this year.
This does not mean faucets in the city will run dry this summer, Fleming said.
Goodrichs supply, combined with the several nearby streams and springs the city taps, will be sufficient to meet the citys demand, he said.
But to keep that demand to a minimum, Fleming is urging every resident to be thrifty with every drop.
If everybodys a little bit cooperative, a little careful, it doesnt need to be painful for anybody, Fleming said last week.
On Tuesday night he discussed the situation with the City Council.
Fleming said he plans to take several steps to conserve water this summer.
The city will cut its consumption by irrigating less at the city-owned golf course, Mount Hope Cemetery and city parks, he said.
So far that hasnt been necessary, Fleming said.
Streams and springs are still supplying enough water that the city hasnt had to tap Goodrich, he said.
That also explains why city crews are flushing and testing fire hydrants, Fleming said. That work will be continue only so long as the city still has a water surplus, he said.
Certainly that surplus wont survive the entire summer, the hottest part of which hasnt arrived.
So far, the city hasnt used more than about 4 million gallons of water in any single day, Fleming said. But in the stifling temperatures typical in July and August, consumption probably will rise to about 6 million gallons per day, he said.
At some point probably next month the citys appetite for water will exceed the amount flowing from those streams into the citys pipeline, Fleming said.
At that point well have to start tightening the belt, he said.
The city wont immediately begin using Goodrich water, though, Fleming said.
First the city will pump water from its backup well, which can produce about 2.2 million gallons per day, though only for a few weeks.
After that the well supplies much less water, and if the city uses it too long the water can become fouled with iron oxide that leaches from the wells walls, Fleming said.
The substance is harmless, but it can stain clothing washed in it, he said.
Fleming said its easier to cut water use at the golf course than at the cemetery or in the parks because the city has a small well at the golf course.
Although that well isnt connected to the citys water system, it can be used to keep the fairways and greens green, Fleming said.
Later this summer he expects the well will be the sole water source for the course.
Fleming said the city will urge residents to help out, too.
He wants homeowners to avoid watering their lawns and gardens between 10 a.m. and sunset. Watering during the heat of the day is wasteful because more of the water evaporates then, he said.
If that doesnt curb consumption enough, Fleming said the city may need to institute an irrigation schedule, in which half the city can water on odd-numbered days, half on even-numbered.
Fleming also encourages residents to fix leaky faucets, which not only helps the city but lowers homeowners water bills.
He said the city plans to make courtesy calls to residents or businesses who seem to be using unusually large amounts of water, in case theres an unknown leak.
Another possible conservation measure is requiring residents to use a hose nozzle while washing their cars or windows, rather than letting the water run constantly, Fleming said.
He expects that regardless of the citys other efforts, water use will decrease if the City Council raises water rates as it intends to do later this summer. On Tuesday the council approved higher sewer rates, which take effect Sept. 1.
Adamson said the city survived the summer of 1970 with few problems by cutting off irrigation at the cemetery and parks. At the golf course the city watered the putting greens only, he said.