Prairie City residents heard some good news at a town hall meeting at the senior center Aug. 22 — a grant and loan from the state could help move the city closer to solving its water emergency.
Drought conditions have impacted the city’s water sources — both the wells and infiltration galleries on Dixie Creek — while debt from an expensive water treatment plant made it difficult for the city to find funding to develop a new well at Faiman Springs.
Mayor Jim Hamsher has promoted the Faiman Springs site as the city’s best option for more than a decade. With a water emergency declared, he began calling Rep. Greg Walden, Sen. Ron Wyden and Gov. Kate Brown’s offices for assistance, and those calls might have paid off.
The state will provide needed funding for developing the Faiman Springs well, Scott Fairley, Business Oregon regional development officer, told residents. With a top estimate of about $1.5 million for the project, the state could provide one-third as a grant and the rest as a 30-year loan at 1.7 percent interest.
If the cost of the project comes in lower, the grant and loan would be correspondingly reduced, Fairley said. The original estimate to develop the Faiman Springs site was about $900,000.
The city is also applying for a $1 million emergency grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, but it could be 18 months before it’s awarded, Hamsher told the Eagle. State funding would become available practically right away.
If the city is awarded the federal grant, that money could be used not only to pay off the state loan but also to pay for the water tenders hauling water to Prairie City from John Day since Aug. 12.
The level in the city’s million-gallon water reservoir had dropped to 1.5 feet over the Aug. 4-5 weekend, forcing the city to declare a water emergency Aug. 6, Hamsher said. With residents cutting back on sprinkling lawns and gardens and as many as eight tenders hauling water on one-hour turnaround trips, the level in the reservoir has reached a safer level despite losing several tenders to firefighting, he said.
Hamsher said he remains concerned about residents who continue to violate water restrictions. The city sent “stiff letters” to several over-users, he said, and some responded by trying to justify their water needs.
The city drilled several wells up at Faiman Springs in 2005, Hamsher said. One well put out 700 gallons per minute when tested — more than enough to handle the city’s needs in peak summer time, he said.
The city owns water rights to the springs and the wells, but it would need to arrange a lease agreement with John Coombs, the landowner, and arrange for an easement about 2 miles long for an access road, water pipe and electrical power.
But first the Faiman Springs well needs a long-term flow test and sampling for water quality. Hamsher said he has secured permission from a landowner to access the well site. Now with state backing, the city can move forward toward developing the site.