Baker City new well

A contractor is scheduled to start drilling a new drinking water well for Baker City next week. The drilling site is at the east side of the parking lot at Quail Ridge Golf Course.

One of the deepest digs in decades in Baker City is slated to start next week, but residents probably won’t see its dividends until 2022.

And then they’ll just have to turn a faucet.

Workers from Schneider Water Services of St. Paul, near Salem, will begin drilling an approximately 700-foot-deep well that will supplement the city’s drinking water supply, said Michelle Owen, the city’s public works director.

The City Council voted on April 14 to pay the firm $677,000 to drill the well.

The site is on the east side of the parking lot at Quail Ridge Golf Course at 2801 Indiana Ave.

The area will be fenced off during the drilling, which Owen said likely will continue well into November.

Boring through the basalt to reach groundwater is the first, and the least-expensive, part of the well project.

Owen said the second phase, which involves installing a pump and distribution pipes, and building a structure around the well, will cost an estimated $2 million. That work won’t start until the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2021.

Owen said the new well probably will start delivering water to Baker City homes and businesses starting in the spring of 2022.

The new well is one of the major projects that prompted the City Council to boost water rates by 10% in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Those increases will pay for the well and for the continuation of a long-term effort to replace the century-old, leaky concrete pipeline that brings water to town from the city’s watershed on the east slopes of the Elkhorn Mountains about 10 miles west of town.

Owen said the city will continue to increase water rates based on the federal cost of living rate, but there are no plans for larger increases to pay for specific large projects.

The new well will be the city’s second.

The other well, which the city drilled in 1977 near its water treatment plant and reservoir on the hill near Reservoir Road, is about 800 feet deep.

Owen said the new well will tap the same aquifer.

The city likely will tap the new well during two periods.

The first is in spring when rapid snowmelt can sometimes temporarily cause streams in the watershed to silt up, Owen said.

That doesn’t happen every year, she said.

The second timeframe when the new well will be especially beneficial is in mid to late summer, when the volume of the watershed’s springs and streams diminishes just as the city’s thirst peaks.

The city definitely would have relied on the new well this summer had it been finished, Owen said.

With daily water use averaging more than 4 million gallons per day during August, the city had to supplement the watershed with water from its existing well and from its lone reservoir, Goodrich, high in the Elkhorns.

Owen said water use declined during September, to less than 4 million gallons per day.

“Usage is trending down but not as quickly as I would like,” she said.

The weather, as always, is a factor,

With dry and unseasonably warm weather forecast to continue through the weekend, Owen said water demand is likely to remain higher than usual for the first week of October.

Owen said she hopes the new well will consistently produce 1,500 gallons per minute — about 2.16 million gallons per day.

Like the existing well, the new one will have the potential to serve as a sort of underground reservoir.

More than a decade ago Baker City became the first Oregon city to receive a state permit for what’s known as aquifer storage and recovery (ASR).

That permit allows the city to divert up to 200 million gallons of water per year from the watershed into its existing well, in effect using the aquifer as a storage facility. The city then taps the well to supplement the watershed and Goodrich Reservoir during summers — including 2020 — when water use is high.

Owen said the new well will have ASR capability as well.

ASR has made the existing well more productive. Prior to the ASR permit, when the city used the well for long periods the water tended to have amounts of iron and manganese which, though they didn’t violate federal drinking water standards, could stain clothes.

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