City's thirst challenges water supply

August 07, 2001 11:00 pm
Robert Hereau hopes his plants survive the heat and multitude of bugs that have come with this summers heat.  He waters in the morning and evenings when his schedule allows.  Its a constant battle to keep the grass green and plants from drying out. He hopes hell be able to enjoy his plants next year. (Baker City Herald photograph by Kathy Orr).
Robert Hereau hopes his plants survive the heat and multitude of bugs that have come with this summers heat. He waters in the morning and evenings when his schedule allows. Its a constant battle to keep the grass green and plants from drying out. He hopes hell be able to enjoy his plants next year. (Baker City Herald photograph by Kathy Orr).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

As the temperature rises, so goes the temptation to twist your faucets a bit more.

The roses are wilting, and what once was a toe-caressing lawn is turning rough and brown as the heat reaches triple digits and the humidity drops to single ones.

Dick Fleming, Baker Citys public works director, doesnt think anyone needs to stop watering their gardens altogether.

But he hopes city residents will treat each drop as the precious commodity it is during this worst drought since 1977.

Were still hanging in there, Fleming said this morning. I dont think were going to have to cut anybody off as long as people continue to be so cooperative.

On Tuesday, as the temperature cleared 90 for the third straight day, more water poured from the citys thousands of spigots than flowed into its reservoirs from Elkhorn Mountain streams and the citys only well, Fleming said.

Those sources produce slightly more than 4 million gallons of water per day, he said.

On Tuesday city residents used about 5 million gallons.

That forced Fleming to play the ace in his hand Goodrich Reservoir.

Theres nothing unusual about that even in summers when water is plentiful the city relies on Goodrich to keep faucets flowing on the thirstiest days, Fleming said.

But what is unusual is that Goodrich isnt full. This may be just the second year the reservoir, which is high in the Elkhorns northwest of Baker City, didnt fill.

Goodrich can hold about 270 million gallons of water.

It is so pure, like the water from the streams and the citys well, that it neednt be filtered to meet federal drinking water standards.

But Goodrich is storing about 168 million gallons now, Fleming said.

He hoped not to have to start using Goodrich water on a daily basis until mid-August.

Although this weeks heat forced the city to miss that target by about a week, Fleming is confident there will be enough water to last until cooler, cloudier weather arrives in autumn and greatly reduces the level of backyard irrigation.

If nobody wastes any, we should have enough, Fleming said.

He calculated the citys potential thirst over the rest of the summer by comparing actual water usage for August, September and October the past four years.

He used the highest average daily water use for each month 5.35 million gallons per day for August, 4.06 million for September and 2.07 million for October.

Based on those figures Fleming estimates the city will need about 140 million gallons of Goodrich water to supplement the mountain streams and the well.

That would leave about 28 million gallons in the reservoir.

Thats not a lot of cushion, Fleming said.

Of course a spate of damp weather would reduce demand for water, lowering the amount the city needs to draw from Goodrich.

Conversely, a prolonged heat spell could conceivably increase that need.

The dramatic effect weather has on water use was illustrated perfectly in July.

On July 9, the Monday after the Fourth of July, city residents sprayed, slurped and sprinkled about 8 million gallons of water the most of any day this year.

The number, although high, didnt shock Fleming. Water use sometimes peaks on Mondays, when people return home from a weekend mini-vacation with dirty clothes and a dry lawn, he said.

But just a week later, when daytime temperatures cooled to the 70s and rain fell on several consecutive days, water use plummeted to about 3 million gallons per day.

I hope we dont have any more 8-million-gallon days, Fleming said.

The city started conserving water earlier this summer.

First, officials required the city-owned golf course to rely on its own well rather than the drinking-water supply.

Then the city asked the Baker School District to reduce watering of the expanses of grass at the Baker Sports Complex and Bulldog Memorial Stadium, Fleming said.

No other restrictions have been necessary such as limiting irrigation at Geiser Pollman Park and Mount Hope Cemetery and none may be needed, he said.

We dont have as much water as we would like, but I think were going to be OK, Fleming said.