City plans to increase backup water supply

Oak Harbor has only two working emergency wells but city officials are planning improvements.

Oak Harbor has only two working emergency wells that, in case of a large-scale emergency or weather disaster, can only produce 18% of the city’s peak water demand, but city officials are planning improvements to the system.

City Engineer Alex Warner and Engineering Technician Jon Pollock gave an information report at a city council workshop on May 25 in response to staff’s concerns about Oak Harbor’s water system and the availability of drinkable water in the event of an emergency.

The report provided an overview of the city’s water system, rates of water production and provided recommendations to consider.

Oak Harbor and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island has a contract with Anacortes for drinking water. Anacortes owns water rights on the Skagit River and operates a treatment facility in Mount Vernon. The water is piped from the river to Oak Harbor, with a transmission line running under the bridge.

Oak Harbor provides an average of 596 million gallons of water to the city each year, the staff member said.

The city maintains access to three emergency wells, all located along Heller Road and in city parks, but only two are in operation. The working wells are tested monthly.

The well currently not in operation was constructed in the 1960s and after failing in January of 2010, decreased in water production until it stopped working in the summer of 2017. In the fall of 2019, city council authorized a contract to begin working on a replacement well but due to disruptions caused by COVID-19, the work has been delayed.

When trying to design a water system that could handle an emergency situation, Pollock explained, the peak demand of the water system and demand during normal conditions needs to be kept in mind. Oak Harbor’s average peak demand of water was 2.3 millions gallons per day.

“It takes our two current wells a little more than four days to produce the amount of water consumed by our city on one of its average days,” said Pollock. “And it takes five and a half days for those wells to match the amount of water that is normally consumed on a peak demand day.”

Restoring the non-operational emergency well would enable the system to replenish the amount of water used on an average day within 2.7 days, and reduce the time to replace the amount of water used on a peak demand day to only 3.7 days.

The items on the water system emergency plan include restoring the emergency well to operation (resulting in a 50% production increase of the emergency water supply), replacing of aged water mains and to exploring the feasibility of constructing additional wells.

“I think the Navy has been a good neighbor to the city of Oak Harbor and I think we are to them,” Councilmember Shane Hoffmire commented after the presentation. “They too need this emergency redundancy.”

Councilmember Bryan Stucky asked how often the wells are utilized for emergency purposes. Pollock said the wells are used in the case of Anacortes shutting down their treatment plants at the Skagit River.

“We have in the last six years had to activate those wells for an extended period of time around three or four different times,” said Pollock. “We also activate them during extended periods of time where we have power outages that affect the region.”

Public Works Director Steven Schuller said he and Warner are in discussion with members of the Navy base.

“The Navy has a transmission main that goes through our city that serves housing to the east and also the Seaplane Base,” Schuller said.

Staff will be working with the Navy on a joint grant application.

The grant will likely be submitted next year and “be in the millions of dollars to help combine those systems is where this looks like it’s going,” Schuller said. “So instead of the Navy trying to redo that transmission main in the future, they would combine with our system; that’ll help provide additional funding to the city and benefit the Navy.”