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Editorial for July 9, 2009

On the right track

Last week, the city of White Salmon officially launched construction of the Buck Creek water filtration plant.

This is a big milestone for the city, and it provides hope that the community's water supply problems are on their way to being solved.

It's also highly impressive that the $2 million project is being paid for completely through generous grants from the state and from the county, and city officials deserve a great deal of praise for working that out.

If all goes as expected, once the "slow sand filtration" plant is completed and operational late this year, it will provide White Salmon's water customers with about 1,000 gallons a minute.

Returning to Buck Creek reminds many residents of the huge controversy that developed when the city decided to leave Buck Creek in favor of a well system to provide the city with its source of water. Surface water sources are more susceptible to possible contamination, and going to the wells in 2000 was based on that concern, as well as optimism that the wells would provide more water than Buck Creek could. As it turned out, after a few years, the city realized that the aquifer feeding the wells was not recharging sufficiently to keep up with demand.

In the end, the well project represented millions of dollars in expenditures for a project that did not do the job it was designed to do. Faced with an emergency situation, the city looked again to good old reliable Buck Creek.

It's unfortunate the slow sand filter approach was not tried back in 2000 rather than the wells, but that is literally water under the bridge. Those in charge back then tried to do the best they could with the information and funding they had at the time.

The plant now under construction alongside Buck Creek is the brainchild of White Salmon Public Works Director Mike Wellman. Wellman worked above and beyond the call of duty to get this project conceptualized, engineered, permitted, and funded. He's taken some criticism at times -- unfairly, we believe -- as he tried to deal with solving a crisis he did not create.

Understandably, there has been a lot of frustration with the water situation in the community, especially with the ongoing moratorium on new water connections. But from everything we can see, Wellman has been doing a stellar job in trying to fix the city's water system, as have all the Public Works Department employees.

Wellman, White Salmon Mayor David Poucher, and City Council members Brad Roberts (chair of the City Operations Committee, which handles water infrastructure issues) and Mark Peppel in particular have put their shoulders into moving this very large boulder up a hill, and they deserve a hearty round of applause for their efforts.

The city is still working on water rights issues, but the new filtration plant is a giant and essential step forward as the city tries to finally solve its water woes.



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