Waterworks not responsible for dry wells

SHADY COVE — When wells began to dry up again this summer, some residents blamed Shady Cove Waterworks, the private company that for the past two years has been constructing the city's first water system.

Waterworks had partially filled its 500,000 gallon water storage tank with well water, and persistent rumors said it was done in June, about the same time that neighborhood wells dried up.

"We always thought they were using the Rogue River water to fill their tank," said Alan Blakemoore, a Shady Cove resident who attended the dedication of the company's water tank a year ago, and had hoped to see the water system further along by now.

"I've always had well trouble," he said. "So, I was relieved, like many people, when Shady Cove Waterworks came into town."

Blakemoore's neighbor, Lynn Horn, was also looking forward to the new water system, but now worries about the newest shortages.

"This is the first summer I ran out of water six times," she said. "I've never had trouble the last seven years that I've lived here. My neighbors are also running out, either for the first time, or for the first time in many years."

Both Horn and Blakemoore have contacted the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) and found that Waterworks has a pending groundwater use permit.

"My biggest thing here is communication," said Blakemoore. "We don't know what's going on."

Debbie Vincent, attorney for Waterworks, said she understands the community's frustration.

"People see a water system that's this big, with fire hydrants down into the city, and they think that people are hooked up and they're not," she said. "Nobody is hooked up."

Vincent said that Waterworks did use well water to fill the tank, not in June, but six months earlier, in December 2006.

"We applied for a water right permit from the OWRD," she said. "We were required as part of our permit application to test the backup system."

Bruce Sund, deputy region manager for the OWRD, confirmed that Waterworks had to demonstrate that they had a backup system.

"Mainly these wells would be used when turbidity is up in the Rogue River and they aren't able to use river water," said Sund. "This would be a backup for just a few days."

Vincent said Waterworks hired Hydro-Flow, a Medford based company, to conduct their application study.

"While we filled the tank, they monitored our wells," she said. "They also conducted tests on wells up to a half-mile away. There was no drawdown in any of those wells."

Hydro-Flow's test data report shows the tank was filled over a five-day period, Dec. 19-23. At the start of testing, there were 38,000 gallons of water in the tank, and when pumping from the wells stopped, the tank held 397,200 gallons, or about 80 percent of capacity.

"We needed to know how long it would take to fill the tank and whether the wells could actually produce the amount of water needed," said Vincent. "That data was given to OWRD as part of the permit application process."

Sund said Waterworks will be allowed to use their backup wells for a maximum of 30 days during any calendar year. They also are required to report any well usage and provide the watermaster with inspection access to the system.

Vincent said the only use of the stored water was by Avista Utilities, while constructing a natural gas pipeline in the city earlier this year. Waterworks put 1,000 gallons a day into a tank truck for dust control.

"The system right now has 6 feet of water in the tank and we have never refilled it since that initial fill in 2006," she said. There are no users on the line."

Vincent said the water system will eventually use Rogue River water and not wells, but first they have to have customers.

"Waterworks is currently paying $105,000 over four years, on an installment contract to the Corps of Engineers, for water that we are not drawing from the Rogue River because we have no customers on the system," she said. "So far, my client has invested $5 million in this project."

Construction on the water treatment plant building and the plant itself has been stopped because of cost.

"The plant will need an additional $2.5 million," she said, "and we don't know if we have even one customer who's going to sign up for water."

The water company has held a series of community meetings trying to drum up support and Vincent said she believes once an engineering study for an area in the northeast portion of the city is completed, Waterworks will be able to begin extending their high-pressure lines.

"The residents there already have a ballpark figure for their share of the connection charges," she said. "Now they just want a very tight bid, one that's bid from a set of plans."

She said the only way for the company to go forward with the water system is through community participation.

"Once we have agreements for line extensions, then we can go to our bank and say we need $2.5 million to finish the plant, here are our contracts for our customers, and this is how we can service our debt — from the income from these water users."

Shady Cove Waterworks is an investor-funded private company managed by Ron and Charlotte Boehm who have placed the water storage facility on their Jackson County property, just outside the city limits.

The appeal period for the Waterworks' OWRD groundwater permit application ends Nov. 16.

Shady Cove is the largest city in Oregon without a municipal water system. Residents rely on nearly 1,000 private wells.

Some newer residents have asked why the city doesn't build its own system.

In 1991, voters rejected a $5.9 million water system, even though 57 percent of the total amount would have come from grants.

A 1999 $7.5 million bond measure, which would have been supplemented with an additional $3.6 million in grants, was also defeated. Many voters complained they were seniors in limited fixed incomes and couldn't afford the additional taxes and use fees for the system.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.

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