The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Irrigation well drilling a gusher of an idea


April 3, 2019

Sweet Home School District wants the city to charge less for water to irrigate district fields.

Lacking that, the district is looking at drilling wells, as we’ve reported in recent weeks.

The city doesn’t appear to want to cut the district any slack on water rates, at least not for the long haul. It isn’t cutting anyone else any slack. We understand – and largely agree, although we do see merit in the district’s argument that it’s paying for water that provides benefits to local citizens beyond its responsibilities to its constituents.

Ideally, the city would find ways to cut us all some slack on the cost of water. Public Works is doing a lot of work that should reduce costs – from its homegrown solution to repairing the manholes that contribute substantially to our inflow and infiltration problems in the sewer to its plan to compost the byproduct from the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

We hope those savings can be identified and quantified and passed on to longsuffering ratepayers.

The School District is just facing the same problem we all are.

Water and sewer rates are expensive, and the bill just keeps growing, at a far higher rate than inflation. In fact, the School District, like commercial, industrial and other bulk water users, is watching its water bill grow faster than it has for residents over last year.

We don’t know how much we like the idea of waiving the water bill as the district requested, although we would like to see the philosophy behind the rate increase explained better.

Commercial, industrial and bulk rates, in the past, have been substantially lower than residential rates because residential rates have subsidized the first 400 cubic feet of water (it’s now 300 cubic feet) for all residential users.

Commercial, industrial and bulk users were not part of that equation, but last year, they suddenly were charged at rates similar to residents, who were already paying extra, thanks to that subsidy.

Really, commercial, industrial and bulk ratepayers could reasonably object and demand equal treatment.

That’s all pretty important when we’re talking about water and sewer bills, but what really matters is the absurd behavior of pouring expensive treated water on the ground.

The Administration, Finance and Property Committee rejected the School District’s initial request for a waiver, and the School District has begun looking into drilling wells to escape that cost.

We find this option, assuming the district can find a sufficient aquifer, to be the best idea of all. It’s a win-win-win-win.

Win 1: The district stops paying high water rates. The funds saved can continue taking care of district grounds and maybe even free up resources for other needs, such as elementary music programs. That’s us, the taxpayers, paying that bill.

Win 2: The city wins – or at least doesn’t lose. The rate in question is supposed to be what it costs to treat and distribute water. If the city isn’t distributing that water – and the underlying rationale about the cost of producing treated water is accurate – then not producing the water shouldn’t burden the city at all. It should be a wash.

Win 3: Those of us who are able to enjoy our various activities on green schoolground lawns – sports, throwing a Frisbee around, fun runs and that big economic development fundraiser, the Oregon Jamboree – are winners. The city picks up additional parks space without expense to itself.

Win 4: Most importantly, school district wells would mean a stop to the waste of treated water. The idea that we take water out of Foster Lake, treat it for use as drinking water and then dump it on the ground is laughable if we have a source of untreated water. We should find such a source, and it looks like the district is working on that. Good job.

There is just one problem: The city is now talking about banning new wells. If the City Council ultimately approves of a ban on wells, we, the taxpayers of the district and the city, will continue treating lake water just to pour on the ground.

The City Council and staff should abandon this notion.

Sweet Home already prohibits well systems from interacting with the city water system. Wells are not a looming threat to our public safety. But where properties are large enough and qualified for wells, they just might be a solution to a problem – at no cost to the city government and its water utility.

In the past 10 years, according to the city manager, Sweet Home’s township has had 15 new wells. That’s it. Most of those were probably outside the city limits. Who cares? And the one or two guys who want to drink tetrachloroethylene in their coffee? We assume they don’t lose sleep over it.

Most of the few residents who might have the space and will to drill are doing it for irrigation, to stop putting expensive treated water on the ground – exactly what the school district is thinking about doing.

A ban on new wells is a classic solution looking for a problem.

Not only should the city cease considering such a move, it should help the district drill on the south lawn at the high school and irrigate Sankey Park from the same source. Then the city ought to look at wells for its other parks.

As long as there is sufficient water at a reasonable depth, this is a win for everyone.


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