Sign of the times

Rhonda Haines, who’s in charge of customer care for Oak Harbor’s utility service, has received a lot of calls lately about the signs around town with the smiling water droplet.

The signs currently say “today’s water supply” is at “stage #2” restrictions. What that means, Haines said, is that drought is highly likely in the near future.

Oak Harbor purchases 99 percent of its water from the city of Anacortes, which owns water rights on the Skagit River and runs a water treatment plant in the Mount Vernon area. The water is piped along Highway 20 to Anacortes, the refineries and other wholesale customers. A branch of the pipe runs under Deception Pass bridge to Oak Harbor and the Navy.

Anacortes recently notified its customers that they’ve entered “Drought Condition State II.” The Skagit River has dropped below nine feet, which means drought is “highly likely in the near future,” according to a city memorandum.

Lower than usual rainfall and snowmelt this summer and fall have caused the near-drought situation. October was one of the region’s driest in more than 50 years. Fortunately, national and state weather forecasters are predicting back-to-normal rainfall after this sunny weekend.

Haines said the city is mandated by the state to have a water conservation plan, but the city is also concerned enough about the environment and shortages to take “pro-active steps.”

“People have asked why the signs are going up now,” she said. “The answer is the salmon are spawning now.”

While the Anacortes treatment plant removes, on average, less than 1 percent of the water in the river, Haines said the city still wants to use the water wisely.

In compliance with water conservation plans, Oak Harbor employees have taken several steps to decrease the usage of water. They have ceased the flushing and flow testing of water lines; discontinued irrigation of parks, greenbelts and facility landscaping; and the fire department stopped all “wet” fire drills.

Haines said the city is also making an effort to educate people about the water shortage and are asking for citizens and businesses to voluntarily reduce water usage.

Specifically, the city is asking people to restrict:

l Hosing paved areas, sidewalks, buildings and windows.

l Operation of ornamental fountains.

l Draining and refilling swimming pools.

l Washing or rinsing vehicles by hose without a shutoff valve.

l Wasting water.

l Landscape watering for commercial and residential users between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m.

Haines said the residents and business owners she’s contacted have all been very cooperative and seem pleased that the city is making the effort to conserve before there’s a serious problem.

The city wants people to continue reducing water usage until the conditions triggering Dought Condition Stage II are alleviated. More information is available on Channel 10 or the city utility bill office at 679-5551.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or call 675-6611.

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