Prairie City is making progress on addressing its water emergency, but a water fee increase is on the horizon, City Recorder Bobbie Brown told the Eagle.
Marciel Well Drilling & Pumps of Mt. Vernon has been testing the three wells at Faiman Springs and found that one well produced 475 gallons per minute on average, Brown said.
That’s enough water to meet the city’s demand. The company is now testing the other two wells at the site.
Drought conditions have lowered water tables in the area and impacted the infiltration galleries on Dixie Creek and the city’s main wells nearby. The city declared a water emergency Aug. 6 after the level in the city’s million-gallon water reservoir dropped to 1.5 feet over the Aug. 4-5 weekend.
Water tenders continue to haul water from John Day to Prairie City, Brown said. The total cost since trucking began Aug. 12 is around $40,000, she said. The cost of trucks, drivers and fuel can run from $80 to $100 per hour.
Brown said John Day City Manager Nick Green “has been very generous” in providing the treated water to Prairie City at no cost. The amount has topped 1 million gallons.
Options in addition to hauling water include tying the city’s water system to a private well near Dixie Creek or a well at the former Prairie Wood Products mill, but Mayor Jim Hamsher estimated the cost of hooking up the wells was about the same as paying for trucking water from John Day, Brown said.
Hamsher has promoted the Faiman Springs site as the city’s best option for more than a decade, but debt the city incurred for constructing a water treatment facility on Dixie Creek Road made it difficult to arrange loans to develop Faiman Springs. The original estimate to develop the site was about $900,000.
Recognizing the emergency situation, the state agreed to provide Prairie City up to $1.5 million for the project, with one-third as a grant and the rest as a 30-year loan at 1.7 percent interest.
Brown said engineering consultant Anderson Perry is working with the state to finalize the state funding application for the city. She expected the application could be completed and submitted in about three weeks, and the state funding would become available about 45 days after that.
The city will receive a $550,000 grant and a loan up to $950,000, Brown said. Once the city begins making payments on the loan, city water fees could increase by an estimated $7.60 per month. Sewer fees will remain the same, she said.
Brown said 105 people showed up at an Aug. 22 town hall meeting where the water fee increase was brought up. All of the people present at the meeting agreed to the fee increase, she said.
The city is also applying for a $1 million emergency grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. That money could be used to pay the cost of hauling water from John Day and pay off the state loan, Brown said. The state will not penalize the city for paying off the loan ahead of schedule, she said.
The availability of the federal grant could be 24 months away, and there’s no guarantee the city will be awarded the grant, Brown noted.
The water emergency and proposed infrastructure improvements are not on the Sept. 12 city council agenda, Brown said. The city council will meet again Oct. 10, at which point more information will be available.