City has ample water — for now

By Terri Harber June 14, 2013 09:34 am

By Terri Harber

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Baker County officials declared a drought emergency June 5, but Baker City’s water supply isn’t in the same predicament.

There still is snow up high in the Elkhorns, though rain has been scarce. That melted snow water makes up much of the city’s water supply.

“That’s good news for the community,” said Michelle Owen, public works director.

On a few recent warm days city residents used as much as 51/2 million gallons of water.

Peak water usage in the city can measure 9 million gallons a day when temperatures reach scorching summer highs.

The concern is what might occur next year if current weather conditions continue, Owen said.

“It’s a dry year,” she said. “I’m really hoping for a wet fall.”

Owen brought up the matter during the council meeting on Tuesday to let new councilors and residents know there is a plan in place should conditions critically worsen.

The city’s detailed water curtailment plan was approved by city councilors in August 2008. 

Section 53.25 of the city’s code of ordinances explains what actions officials would take when water demand appears to reach or exceed specified percentages of the overall domestic supply. 

• Stage 1, Alert Status, would require the city to curtail hydrant flushing and request citizens voluntarily cut back water use. The seasonal determination is based on whether “demand is rising to 80 percent of water supply, there is use of Goodrich Reservoir supply, but no well use,” the code states.

• Stage 2, Warning Status, calls for the city to request that large-volume water users — parks, schools, cemetery, golf course and sports complex — reduce usage and adhere to a schedule of permitted watering times. Residents would be asked to limit use in their yards to specific days and times of day. And there would be no more hydrant flushing once this condition exists. Goodrich Reservoir water being used as well as water from the supply well would prompt this action during the summer with demand reaching 80 percent.

• Stage 3, Critical Status, would restrict water volumes for industrial and commercial users. Lawn watering and car washing would be prohibited and irrigation would cease among the large-volume users listed in Stage 2. The golf course could use water from its well to continue irrigation, but no domestic water. In summer, demand would have to be 90 percent of the water supply, Goodrich Reservoir would be in use and, by this point, only half-full. The water supply well also would have to be in use before these actions are taken.

• Stage 4, Emergency Status, would only allow use of city water for “human and animal consumption, and proper health and sanitation,” according to the code. All outside use of the domestic supply “will be prohibited.” These are summer conditions that would exist to prompt this level of action: “Demand is 90 percent of the water supply, the Goodrich Reservoir water is being used, the reservoir is one-quarter full, the water supply well is being used, and the water supply well capacity is diminishing,” the code stipulates. 

High turbidity in spring and a compromised supply because of low temperatures in winter also could determine whether (and what) action would be needed to ensure there is enough water for basic needs.

Baker City’s Emergency Operations Plan focuses on handling needs of the population — including fire suppression — if there is an extended shortage caused by failure of the water system. Implementation of the curtailment plan is stipulated in this plan as well. 

It was approved by the councilors in May.

The summer of 1977 was one that Baker City residents spent foregoing unnecessary water use. Reservoirs reached critically low levels so residents were asked to water their yards during the evenings and on either odd- or even-numbered days, depending on their street addresses.

The city has since added to its water capacity, largely through its aquifer storage and recovery project (ASR).

It has a permit which allows it to divert up to 200 million gallons of water from the mountain watershed into the city’s backup well.

The city also has Goodrich Reservoir, a natural lake with a capacity, also about 200 million gallons, because of construction of a dam (the dam was built decades before the 1977 drought).

“I don’t want people to panic, but I also want them to be respectful of our natural resources,” Owen said.

She anticipates the city soon will begin talking to large-scale users about becoming more conservative with their consumption — unless conditions improve quickly.