By JESSE BURKHARDT
The long march toward a solution to White Salmon's water woes may be nearing its end.
According to White Salmon Public Works Director Mike Wellman, the proposed water filtration plant on Buck Creek is about to enter the construction stage.
Wellman said the city plans to begin advertising for bids on the project starting on March 18. The bids are scheduled to be opened on March 28, with the award to the lowest qualified bidder set for May 6.
The cost of building the plant -- which will be on Buck Creek, about eight miles northwest of White Salmon -- is expected to be in the range of $1.5 million.
Once the bids are reviewed, the White Salmon City Council will vote on whether to accept the low bid.
"We seem to be on track," said White Salmon Mayor David Poucher. "Of course, there is always a curve ball that can come along and bean you, but we're working closely with the county and with the state as partners."
The new water filtration plant -- which will use sand to filter out harmful organisms -- is scheduled to be providing for the city's water customers by late this year.
The city of White Salmon has had a long recent history of dealing with water shortages following a serious decline in the amount of water in the aquifer feeding the current well system.
The wells went on line in 2000, but over the years the recharge rate has been dropping, leading to a water shortage. As a result, state agencies have placed a moratorium on issuing new water hookups.
At the March 4 meeting of the White Salmon City Council, council member Richard Marx asked whether the moratorium will be lifted once the filtering plant is completed.
"Is it going to open up more water hookups?" Marx asked.
Mayor Poucher said he was hopeful that would be the case.
"We're working with the Washington Department of Ecology to increase our water rights. Once the filtering plant is on line, they should lift the moratorium," Poucher explained. "But there is no definite date yet for that."
Wellman pointed out there were some advantages in building a filtration plant during these sour economic times.
"It's a big project," Wellman said. "With the bad economy, you pull a wider audience, and people are willing to travel. That's good and bad -- there is more competition [to bid on the project], but some bidders may not be aware of the specific conditions in this area."
"We're bidding at the right time," Poucher said. "We're hoping we get low bids from some highly qualified bidders."
The project requires a general contractor to build reservoirs, construct the sand filter plant, perform the necessary electrical and data control work, and install water pipelines.
Construction on the plant is expected to start in May, barring something unexpected.
"We're fast-tracking it," Wellman said. "But you have to get permits right up to the very end. There are a zillion little permits to get."
Poucher said the initial testing of Buck Creek water is positive.
"The water appears to be very clean, even before filtering," Poucher explained. "The lab analysis of the water from the creek is not turning up any problems. We're finding an extremely clean source of water."