Water conservation efforts are working

August 23, 2001 11:00 pm
Irrigation hoses at North Baker School and elsewhere arent getting regular use during this summers drought conditions. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
Irrigation hoses at North Baker School and elsewhere arent getting regular use during this summers drought conditions. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

Dick Fleming would prefer a downpour, but hed be satisfied with even a shower or two.

Fleming is Baker Citys public works director.

One of his responsibilities is to ensure theres enough water to keep the citys faucets flowing.

Not an enviable task during a drought, certainly, but Fleming said he is more optimistic now than a few weeks ago that the city will endure this unusually dry year with few problems.

And Flemings attitude brightened considerably when this weeks cloudier, cooler weather replaced the stifling heat that had predominated in August.

The rain meterologists predicted didnt arrive, but even just the overcast will help a little, Fleming said.

City residents use less water when the weather is cool and cloudy.

But whats really spared the city from the most dire effects of drought is residents willingness to use water wisely even during the dusty dog days, Fleming said.

The temperature at the Baker City Municipal Airport has exceeded 100 degrees on three days this August, the first time thats happened since August 1972.

Yet the city has been using a bit more than 4 million gallons of water per day, on average, the past few weeks, he said.

Thats more than a million gallons per day less than last August, which was not as hot, with only one triple-digit day.

Weve had some real good cooperation, Fleming said. Were using less than we normally would.

The Baker School District has saved the city millions of gallons of water by complying with the citys request to cut back irrigation at schools, he said.

The district hasnt watered grass at its five elementary schools in Baker City since the citys request, said Ron Stoaks, the districts maintenance/grounds director.

It also has reduced watering at the Baker Sports Complex and Bulldog Memorial Stadium, Stoaks said.

He said he has learned how to irrigate more efficiently this summer a lesson he said will save water in the future, too.

Were using water with a lot more knowledge than we did before, Stoaks said. Weve learned how to water less and still keep the grass green.

Because homeowners and businesspeople have been so thrifty, the citys only water storage facility, Goodrich Reservoir in the Elkhorn Mountains northwest of town, has not dropped as quickly as Fleming expected.

Last winters snowpack was so thin that Goodrich didnt fill this spring, just the second time thats ever happened.

Earlier this month Fleming estimated Goodrich, which has a capacity of about 270 million gallons, would be down to about 28 million gallons by early autumn.

Thats about a weeks worth of water.

But Fleming said that in making his projections, he assumed the city would need about 3 million gallons of water from Goodrich every day.

Actually the city has been drawing about half that much from the reservoir.

Fleming now figures the city will have at least 10 days supply left in Goodrich this fall.

Baker Citys main source of water is its 10,000-acre mountain watershed, which extends from Goodrich Reservoir several miles south along the east face of the Elkhorns.

Twelve streams and springs feed the citys main pipeline.

Those sources are still sending about 2 million gallons per day to the city, Fleming said.

The city supplements that with water from its well and from Goodrich.

Although the well can pump as much as 2.7 million gallons per day at full capacity, its production plummets if it is used every day for several weeks, Fleming said.

That has been the case this summer, he said, as the city has strived to save Goodrichs water as long as possible.

Now the well can pump about 1.7 million gallons per day.

Were really been working the well too hard, Fleming said.

But with the current combination of residents curbing their water consumption and Mother Nature cooperating with cooler weather, he is confident the city can use more water from Goodrich and rest the well.