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City to pour millions into water system

Over the next six years, the city of Oak Harbor will spend about $4 million on improvements to the city’s water service, though city staff members are looking into grant opportunities that could lessen the financial blow.

At the same time, city staff will likely study the vulnerability of the water system, alternative sources of water and the rates residents pay.

The city council members recently approved the 2003 Water System Plan, which is required to be updated and submitted to the Department of Health every six years. The purpose of the plan is to make sure the city’s water system meets statutory requirements, provides quality and reliable water service, and meets the current and future water demands of the city’s water customers.

Although the council unanimously approved the plan, Councilman Paul Brewer voiced several concerns about the water system. His main worry was that the water plan, he claimed, doesn’t adequately address the possibility of flooding at the Anacortes water treatment plant, which could shut down the water pipeline for 45 days.

Since Oak Harbor sits on an island with limited local water resources, it receives its water in a unique way. The city purchases water from Anacortes. The Skagit County city owns water rights on the Skagit River in the Mount Vernon area. The Anacortes-owned water treatment plan pumps water from the river, along Highway 20, all the way to Anacortes. A branch of the pipe splits off and brings water, under the bridge, to Oak Harbor.

The city’s revised water system plan includes a list of construction projects that was partially developed using a complex computer modeling program. For 2004, the capital improvement program calls for a $150,000 reservoir piping reconfiguration, $125,000 in telemetry upgrades, $40,000 in transmission main outlet modifications, plus $80,000 for a rate study and vulnerability assessment.

One of the two biggest projects is a $1 million project to relocate transmission lines along Highway 20 near Deception Pass in 2005. The state Department of Transportation plans to lower the grade of the highway, so the water pipeline will have to be moved.

The most expensive project on the list is a $2.2 million south reservoir, which is planned for 2009. It is required to provide standby storage for projected growth within the city’s urban growth area, the plan states.

The executive summary of the plan echoes Brewer in stating that the reliability of the water supply continues to be an issue. City staff recommends that alternative sources of water be evaluated, such as unused wells or reserve osmosis units.

The plan also recommends that city staff complete a rate study within two years. It recommends that the rate study looks at “inverting the rate structure to promote water conservation by charging higher rates for higher consumption,” changing to a monthly rather than bi-monthly billing cycle, and comparison of water rates to other water purveyors.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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