7.4 miles down, 15.9 miles to go.
That’s the current status of Baker City’s long-term project to replace the century-old, leak-prone concrete pipeline that brings water from the Elkhorn Mountains to town.
This summer crews are working on the section between Elk Creek and Salmon Creek.
The pipeline originated as an open ditch built in the 1860s to supply mines near Auburn. After the city acquired the ditch and its water rights from miners, the city installed concrete pipe. But the pipe sections are just 3 feet long, which means there are thousands of joints, which can leak. A test done in the early 2000s showed that when the pipe is at capacity as much as 22% of the water can be lost to leaks.
The new pipe city crews are installing is made from longer sections of PVC.
The project started back in 2009, and is expected to run through 2026. With an average cost of $750,000 a year, the total cost will likely end up coming out to around $12 million.
The city raised water rates to pay for the project.
Because the pipeline is inaccessible in winter and into spring due to snow, work can only be done during summer.
But Michelle Owen, the city’s public works director, is hopeful that the project will be completed within 6 years.
In addition to the mountain line, a steel pipeline installed in 1961 carries water from Goodrich Lake, a source of water during summer, across the valley to town.