White Salmon trying to secure more water rights

The Washington Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River awarded the city a $70,000 grant to study the reliability of the White Salmon River as a new surface water diversion and/or groundwater source in hydraulic continuity with the river. Pictured is Husum Falls.

The City of White Salmon’s effort to secure a long-term source of drinking water for its customers got a boost in May.

The Washington Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River awarded the city a $70,000 grant to study the reliability of the White Salmon River as a new surface water diversion and/or groundwater source in hydraulic continuity with the river.

White Salmon contracted with Aspect Consulting, of Bainbridge Island, in June to conduct the study with the full support of the City Council and the Mayor’s Office.

A portion of the project’s long description reads: “Under this project, the City will develop an appraisal of new source supply options.” The deadline for completing the study is Dec. 31.

The study seeks to answer several basic questions pertaining to the feasibility of withdrawing water from the White Salmon River (through diversion or from drilling), treating it, and distributing it to consumers and other end users.

White Salmon holds rights to 7.25 cubic feet per second (cfs) in its water right portfolio: 4.25 cfs on White Salmon River tributary Big Buck Creek, 2 cfs on the White Salmon River, and 1 cfs on Jewett Creek.

The city’s system, however, currently produces only 3 cfs via a diversion and sand filtration plant on Big Buck Creek and from its well fields in the lower White Salmon valley.

“When it comes to water source reliability, things have to change for the City dramatically,” said Pat Munyan, White Salmon’s city administrator and public works director.

The plan, he continued, is to relocate and combine 3.25 cfs with the city’s newly acquired 2 cfs on the White Salmon River to “provide water security for the regional area for the next 50-plus years” and meet current growth projections.

During the 2015 drought, White Salmon looked for an additional water source to ensure a secure water supply.

“Initially, the city was looking to invest and develop some springs, but after some investigation and coordination with state and local partners, including the [Yakima] Tribe and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, it was determined that source wasn’t feasible for public supply,” explained Brook Beeler, communication manager for Ecology’s Eastern Region Office.

White Salmon didn’t give up. It developed and submitted a new proposal under the leadership of Mayor Dave Poucher that became the investigation now under way.

Noted Beeler, “If a feasible source is identified, once the study is complete, our role will be to work with the city through the water right permitting process.”

The challenge before White Salmon, as owner/-operator of what amounts to a regional water supply system, is “finding a non-significant impact solution when it comes to water right diversions while avoiding impacts to fisheries and the environment, [which is extremely difficult to achieve,” Munyan said. “Even more challenging is gaining the support of all the bureaucratic agencies.”

The city recently held a meeting with White Salmon River basin stakeholders as part of its required outreach to entities “that may be either affected by the proposal or may be necessary to gain support for the project.”

The group included representatives of White Salmon system customers Bingen and the Port of Klickitat, as well as from Ecology, the Yakama Nation, Fish and Wildlife, the state Department of Health, and the Washington Water Trust.

Aspect Consulting’s scope of work includes the following tasks: design flow rate, hydrogeologic investigation to inform well drilling options, surface water quantity and quality assessment, water treatment conceptual design, wat-er transmission conceptual design, approvals and permits summary, and a draft appraisal report that identifies a preferred alternative (surface water, groundwater, or both).

Consultants will share the draft appraisal — which will summarize the details of tasks two through six — with the city, Ecology, and other stakeholders for their review and commentary.

From this process will come a final appraisal that documents the proposed design criteria, proposed source capacity and configuration, estimated project costs, and anticipated permitting for the project.

The city plans to apply for funding in September and hopes to break ground for construction of the selected project(s) in late 2017.

A favored option includes constructing a sand filtration plant next to the river on frontage currently owned by PacifiCorp to treat the water and utilize an existing booster pump station (also owned by PacifiCorp) to transmit water into the distribution system.

In addition, an outdated water mainline would have to be replaced with a larger diameter pipeline “to improve instantaneous water flow to the city,” said Munyan.

Aspect Consulting is not new to White Salmon’s water issues. For the last five years, the firm has been conducting a study for the city and Ecology of the feasibility of recharging the city’s well fields with surface water from Buck Creek during high instream flows for storage and later use. This method of water production is called Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR).

“The objective” of the project “is to recharge the well fields to allow higher production rates during the periods when the Buck Creek water source cannot be relied on,” Munyan said. The city’s goal is to have the ASR program in operation by 2018.

The Buck Creek treatment plant experiences more than 45 days of shutdowns per year due to annual maintenance on and cleaning of the sand filtration plant, and seasonal high turbidity in the creek (water made muddy or cloudy as sediments get stirred up).

During Buck Creek shutdowns, the city can only produce 50% of the region’s water demand. Moreover, for three months of the summer, Buck Creek’s instream flow drops to 10 cfs; the city in turn has to curtail water withdrawals during times of low instream flow (to protect fish) and switch over to its wells.

Munyan said both Buck Creek and the well fields (particularly with enhancement from ASR) are both viable sources but neither is a long-term solution for a growing community.

“In high demand periods, Buck Creek and the well fields cannot singularly meet the demands during these periods,” Munyan said. “Therefore, additional sources are necessary.”

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