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No quick fix seen in city water crisis

Shortages are going to continue

Water shortages are just going to be part of the White Salmon experience for the foreseeable future.

That's the gloomy prognosis from White Salmon Mayor David Poucher, who is growing increasingly frustrated with the Washington Department of Health (WDOH) and the way "the bureaucracy" is keeping the city from moving forward with bold plans to resolve the situation.

The city's Well No. 2 is still out of service. The new piece of equipment the well needs -- the "probe" -- has arrived, and is due to be operating by the end of this week.

However, Poucher warned that the probe is not likely to solve the main problem.

"The preliminary indication is that it will tell us there is no water," Poucher explained.

Poucher reported that there could be no lifting of the requirement for water conservation for the foreseeable future.

"I think we're in this for the long haul," said Poucher. "This is life in White Salmon until we can find another water source."

According to Poucher, the city is able to produce about 825 gallons per minute on average. That's enough to meet basic demands, but there is no margin for error.

"With conservation, we're doing really well. We're able to keep the reservoirs essentially full, and we are working on that diligently," Poucher said. "We're using about all we're producing. We've had some really hot stretches, but are producing enough water."

Poucher added, however, that the city is one big calamity away from having to return to getting its water from Buck Creek.

"If we get a major fire, we are going to turn Buck Creek on," he said. "That would mean we're stuck with a preliminary boil water order. We don't want that. But we're not going to burn because of a lack of water."

Poucher added that when to trigger the move to Buck Creek would be based on input from the fire chief.

"We have enough water in storage to fight fires for 12-15 hours. If we had that fire north of Trout Lake down here -- we'd have to make some decisions."

Poucher said he was increasingly frustrated by having to wait for the state Department of Health to approve the city's plans to install a "slow sand filtering" plant on Buck Creek. The filtering plant would allow the city to use Buck Creek water without the need to boil the water, but the state seems stuck in slow gear.

"If this was King County, would we be in the same boat?" Poucher questioned. "Why doesn't the state work with the community to solve the problem instead of being part of the problem?"

Poucher pointed out that the city has the resources to pay for a filtering plant, which would cost about $2 million.

"We have that money in hand through a variety of grants," Poucher said. "We're just waiting on the Department of Health. The city can't act without their OK."

White Salmon Public Works Director Mike Wellman said the city's water problems may last for awhile.

"Until we get Buck Creek on line, we're not in a position to lift the water moratorium. We're looking at not just this summer, but one more summer of misery," Wellman said. "Believe me, we're trying to fast track this. We want to start now."

Poucher slammed the inefficiency of the state agency.

"They tell us to test it for 12 months, so we set up a pilot test. But then they come back and ask why we do this, why we do that, `why are you testing it this way,'" he explained. "They are just being absolutely horrible to work with. It's just frustrating; it's just bureaucracy."

Poucher said once the WDOH approves the necessary permits, the plant could be up and running within about 10 months.

In the meantime, Mayor Poucher urges water users to reduce what they use as much as possible, and to contact the city if there is an unusual need to use water.

"I realize people are not happy, but we need to keep doing what we are doing," Poucher said. "Green lawns will come back in the fall, and you can keep your plants alive by hand watering. If someone needs a lot of water -- for a power-wash for painting or for pouring concrete, for example -- call City Hall first. That helps us allocate the water," Poucher said.


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