Baker City Public Works Director Michelle Owen is asking residents to use less water during the heat wave.
“We’re just using a large amount of water and I thought it would be just appropriate to kind of say, hey folks, we need to be thinking about that,” Owen said on Thursday.
“It’s hot and we all want to stay cool but let’s be smart about our water use.”
Although peak hourly demand earlier this week equated to a daily use of 8.5 million gallons — 4.5 million is a more typical summer day’s usage — Owen said the city’s water supply is in “pretty good shape.”
Goodrich Reservoir, the natural lake high in the Elkhorn Mountains that the city uses as a supplementary source, is full, holding about 200 million gallons.
“I don’t have grave concerns over the supply,” Owen said. “Goodrich has been filled and we are using some of Goodrich and we are using the well, so we are using a lot of different sources. And we’ll continue to do so.”
The city’s main source of water is a series of about a dozen streams and springs in the 10,000-acre watershed on the east slopes of the Elkhorns, about 12 miles west of Baker City. The city taps streams including Elk, Salmon, Marble and Mill creeks.
During the summer, when the streamflows decrease at the same time water usage peaks, the city supplements the watershed with water from Goodrich Lake and from its well.
The city was the first in Oregon to receive a permit from the state, about a decade ago, that allows the city to divert water from watershed streams into the well during the winter and spring. The city then pumps that water back to the surface during summer.
Owen said water use was rising even before the recent hot spell, when temperatures topped 90 on the six days of July, including three days of 100 or above.
She attributes the higher water demand in part to more people staying home due to the coronavirus pandemic, and while there watering their lawns and gardens and filling pools.
On Wednesday the city distributed a notice asking residents to voluntarily curtail their use.
It’s the first of four stages in the city’s water curtailment plan. The city is not imposing any requirements.
“So this is just a wake-up call to folks that they need to be smart about their water use and conserve where they can,” Owen said.
She has required a reduction to 70% of normal water use for irrigation at the city’s parks, the Baker Sports Complex, Mount Hope Cemetery and the Quail Ridge Golf Course.
“I selected those because they’re the nonrevenue sources, they’re not really paying for their water directly, so we definitely want to hit those guys first and not bother or pester the residents,” Owen said. “But again I think it’s important everybody conserve water and not waste it.”
Because city crews are replacing a section of the city’s main water pipeline, some streams, including Salmon Creek, aren’t available now.
“That makes our supply just a little bit tighter than normal,” said Owen.
She said the city plans to drill a second backup well next fall to increase the water supply.