PUD reviews Island water source search
February 9, 2023
Water was a big topic of conversation at the Wahkiakum County PUD Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, which started with a public hearing for the proposed conversion to a Puget Island Small Water System Management Plan, which would be adopted later that morning.
General Manager Dan Kay explained that a traditional and formal water system management plan has to be updated every six years for the Department of Health and would cost $40,000. Because there were no changes to their formal plan at this time, converting to a $15,000 SWSMP would be less expensive.
“There are very few places to expand to,” Kay said, “the customer base is essentially the same, the capital projects have been listed for years, they just carry through to this one. If there are dramatic changes, we would have to go back to the formal plan.”
Another benefit of the SWSMP is that it does not expire, Auditor Erin Wilson pointed out.
“We’re still a Class A system,” Kay said. “Operationally we continue as we were and we maintain that compliance with the Department of Health.”
After the public hearing was closed, Kay gave an update on the PUD’s investigation into a secondary source of water that would continue to provide water if the primary source dried up.
“This is needed for resiliency, reliability, and capacity issues that could come about,” Kay said.
A hydrogeology study showed that water was likely available on Puget Island, and identified wells that had already been drilled. The PUD tested one of those well sites and discovered it could be treated with traditional methods.
With encouragement from commissioners, Kay said he met with the Town of Cathlamet to talk about a possible partnership to find the secondary water source, a goal that was listed on both their water plans.
A workshop to continue the discussion between the PUD and the town has since been suggested, and the commissioners were agreeable.
“It would be a multiyear project with several off-ramps,” Kay said. “If something doesn’t happen, you can stop the project.”
The recommendation from engineers is to drill a two inch test well site, and the legal department has been researching potential properties.
Counsel Tim Hanigan said he’d made preliminary contact with a few landowners or agents on the island, and the plan is to enter into an option for approximately a one acre site where the PUD could drill a test well, which would be tested for flow and to ascertain what kind of treatment might be needed. If acceptable, the PUD would purchase the property or enter into a long term lease.
There is some legwork you have to do ahead of time before finding funding for a water source project, Kay said, adding that drilling a two inch test well could cost the PUD $40,000-60,000.
“Let’s be clear, this is not a risk free adventure,” he said. “If we drill and there is no water…”
Commissioner Dennis Reid was concerned about the PUD spending money without being certain that there is grant money available to pay for a secondary water source project.
“This project is not going to happen if there is not grant money out there,” he said.
“This investment gets us that much closer to that magic phrase, shovel ready,” Commissioner Bob Jungers said.
Mark Vik, who attended the meeting, said the city water supply disappeared in 1965 and a barge was brought in and tied up to the city dock to treat water from the Columbia River.
“It was the cleanest water we ever had,” he said. “Bar none.”
Kay agreed that there was a lot of water out there, but added that the Department of Ecology has very specific requirements regarding water. Reid added that it would be much more expensive to treat the surface water than drilling a well with today’s requirements at the health department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
During the manager’s report, Kay said that they were seeing more customer growth in the last few weeks, and were busy replacing poles, as supply chain issues would allow. He also said that their customer service team had taken a lot of calls regarding higher bills earlier this year and people were concerned there had been a rate increase, but that was not the case.
“Mother Nature drives a lot of what your bill is,” Kay said.
Commissioners adopted a resolution declaring an emergency for the purpose of waiving competitive bidding requirements for procurement of supplies, equipment, materials and parts.