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Water, on higher ground South county water district wants out of tsunami zone

Posted: Tuesday, Dec 22nd, 2009


The main Southwest Lincoln County Water District storage tank on Blodgett Road can hold 1 million gallons of water. Two other tanks give the district a combined 2-million-gallon capacity that could be used to supply Waldport and Yachats in the event water treatment plants are disabled during an earthquake or tsunami.
If a tsunami or major earthquake struck the central Oregon coast, a fresh supply of water would be critical for survivors. Bridging the gap between Waldport and Yachats, the Southwest Lincoln County Water District would likely play an important role in post-disaster recovery.

Which is why its board of commissioners hope to get the district’s equipment building to higher ground within the next three years.

“The most important thing now is to get ourselves out of the tsunami zone,” said SWLCWD Commissioner Gary Hodges.

Although its two water-processing plants and two pump stations are located on higher ground, the administrative building and equipment shop sit nearly at sea level a few miles north of Yachats on the east side of Highway 101.

A tsunami from a major earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, 50 to 75 miles off the coast, could reach the SWLCWD headquarters before vital equipment and supplies could be evacuated.

The U.S. Forest Service leased the district land adjacent to its main water treatment plant on Blodgett Road, but the $300,000 to $500,000 needed to construct a 50- by 80-foot structure is proving a tough obstacle.

The district hired a grant writer in hopes of corralling some stimulus or grant money to fund the project. Although the federal government might have to spend billions in a tsunami or earthquake recovery effort, it turns out there is little cash for preventive efforts.

“We felt moving the equipment to higher ground would make a strong case for stimulus money, rather than the study of salamanders, ants and things like that,” said Don Tucker, SWLCWD board chair.

In addition to housing equipment, a building at the Blodgett Creek location would provide shelter for staff and students of Angell Job Corps and local residents during an emergency, complete with five working toilets to help with sanitation.

The site next to the Forest Service’s abandoned administrative site has the advantage of being reachable over land without having to cross any coastal bridges and is big enough to land helicopters.

“We’ve become aware that this site is potentially the night and day difference in an emergency,” Tucker said.

Construction of the new facility would be completed in stages, with the first stage being a foundation costing somewhere in the range of $100,000 to $125,000. The water district is working with Angell Job Corps to have its students construct the masonry walls during the second phase with the tresses, roof, windows and finishing touches coming in the final stage.

The commissioners have been working with state elected officials to find money for the project. They were disappointed when Congressman Kurt Schrader failed to follow through with a pledge to help during a town hall meeting in Waldport last spring, but they hope a meeting with his staff in early December will be more fruitful.

The district, established by voters in 1947, is funded entirely from the sale of water to its 1,250 customers. Commissioners rule out the possibility of a bond levy to raise the money.

“This is not a well-heeled end of the county,” Tucker said.

A bond passed in the 1990s to build two filtered water treatment plants, as well as the loan payment on the new generators has put the water district close to its debt ceiling to finance new construction.

By building in phases, the hope is the money will come from multiple sources.

“We’re looking for people who might say, ‘yes we can provide you with a $10,000 or $15,000 grant,’” Hodges said.

With two water-processing plants and three holding tanks with a combined 2-million-gallon capacity, the water district stretches from the outskirts of Waldport (there are about 70 customers inside the Waldport city limits) to the northern edge of Yachats. With 27 miles of pipe, the SWLCWD can feed water to both cities if needed. In fact, half the water for the fire suppression system at Crestview Heights School in Waldport is supplied by the district.

A power outage a year ago lasting several days resulted in a 70-percent draw down of the district’s storage tanks. Knowing that a tsunami or earthquake could result in an even longer outage, and with a growing awareness of just what an important role its water processing capabilities would have in an emergency, the district purchased backup generators for its two water treatment plants and two pumping stations this year.

The Confederated Tribes of the Siletz provided a $12,000 grant toward the generator purchase and a loan from the Oregon Community and Economic Development Fund financed the rest of the $90,000 cost.

“Water is the basic need for any person, more than food, more than shelter or anything else,” Tucker said. “We needed to make sure we were able to continue shipping clean water.”

The commissioners are appealing to anyone with any ideas on how to fund a new equipment and supply storage building to contact the district at 547-3315.

More information about the SWLCWD can be found at www.swlcwd.org.



Larry Coonrod can be reached at 265-8571 ext 211 or editor@southlincolncountynews.com.








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