Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

PUD seeks groundwater solution for Puget Island

“We’re not going to drop a hose in the Columbia,” says general manager

Although the Wahkiakum County Public Utilities District manages the Puget Island Water System, the water is supplied through a contract with the Town of Cathlamet, which owns a water source in the Elochoman Valley. This source also provides water to the town’s customers.

In the last year or two there has been a lot of talk at the PUD about finding a secondary source of water for Puget Island customers and to provide redundancy in the system.

It’s not a new subject. As a utility responsible for a Class A water system, the PUD has to answer to entities like the Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Ecology. Water plans created by engineering experts are required and reviewed periodically. They are designed to help the utility reach and maintain their goals, which are in this case to provide safe, reliable, potable water to their customers at reasonable rates.

“The water system plans are well thought out documents,” Auditor Erin Wilson said. “The items that are in the capital improvement part, which is where the source development is, everything in there is for system resiliency and betterment of the system.”

The district has worked through most of the items in the capital improvement list, General Manager Dan Kay said, and are now looking at what remains. They happen to be the most expensive projects.

“This push has been in the water plan for 20 years or more,” Commissioner Gene Healy said.

“We’ve talked about it every year since I’ve been here, on some level. In the last few years there has been some potential funding available. And so we decided that maybe we should take that next step, and that is to do some evaluation, and that is what we are doing.”

The evaluation has a lot of off ramps, Healy explained.

“You stop if it isn’t feasible,” he said. “One of them is funding. Is there enough water, is it good enough quality? If we come to one of those and we’re blocked on going any further on the flow chart you forget about it or come up with an alternate plan.”

So far this time around the PUD hasn’t hit an off ramp, but it’s still early.

A hydrogeology study determined that water was more likely to be found on the northerly part of the island, and a potential location was found and purchased by the PUD this spring for $50,000.

The PUD looked at several locations before settling on the spot, even getting calls from customers who read about the project in The Wahkiakum County Eagle who were offering their own parcels of land for testing.

The next step will be to drill a well.

“We’re not going to drop a hose in the Columbia River to supply a Class A water system,” Kay said. “It’s totally illegal and the amount of clean up? We can’t do that.”

“These options that we are looking at are very reasonable from an engineering perspective,” he continued. “You either have surface water or you have ground water. Surface water is a lake, a river, a stream. It’s much more expensive to operate and maintain. You get a lot of stuff in the water you may not want to drink and we have to treat it.”

That’s one reason why they are seeking a groundwater source. The second is that they are “historically less expensive to operate and maintain.”

“Working with DOE and getting the type of water right,” Kay said, “that is what has been suggested. Are there a hundred different ways to probably do this, possibly, but we have a very reputable firm that the district and the town use.”

Meanwhile, the PUD has taken a more dynamic and determined approach in seeking funding for the project.

According to Kay, engineers from Gray and Osborne believe the project could cost roughly $2.5 million.

“We need to take advantage of the funding opportunities,” said Wilson. “That is how this project will come to fruition.”

If they do secure funding, the PUD hopes to have 80 to 90 percent of the project funded by grants or something that will come with loan forgiveness, paid for by the federal government or the state, with little to no cash impact on the customer, Kay explained.

And if the project gets done, there is a potential that the PUD could supply their own water to Puget Island for less that what they are buying from the town, Kay said.

While rates are unlikely to ever decrease, it helps the PUD minimize the trajectory when they go up.

“Just getting a water treatment facility and a well hooked up to the Puget Island water customers, I don’t believe it will drive up rates,” Healy said.

As for whether it could proposed project could become an alternate water source for the town, it’s much too early to say. It’s not in their initial plan, Healy explained.

“As far as I’m concerned the reason we are thinking about putting a well on Puget Island is because we serve Puget Island,” he said. “We don’t have the responsibility to worry about Cathlamet’s water other than the fact that potentially it could be a secondary feed to help out this system.”

“It will be set up and ready to serve Puget Island,” Kay said. “Will it be able to do more? Absolutely. Do we know to what level? That still comes in the future.”


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