Water,water everywhere with plenty to drink

Published on Thu, Aug 18, 2005 by ara Nelson

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Water, water everywhere with plenty to drink

By Tara Nelson

A drive along some of the main roadways in the city of Blaine and the surrounding area may reveal a number of sandwich boards asking residents to conserve water.

The signs are part of the Blaine and Birch Bay water and sewer district’s voluntary outdoor conservation campaign, which is typically instituted once the reserve levels drop below 70 percent.

Those signs, however, also have some citizens concerned that – amidst a plethora of development proposals – the area may not be able to meet the growing demands for water and sewer hookups.

Roger Brown, general manager of the Birch Bay water and sewer district, however, said the signs are there to encourage residents to be mindful of water usage as mandated in the state conservation act and that meeting demand is not a problem.

“When we pop up and remind people to be judicious in their water use, it’s not a sign that something is out of order or things are wrong,” he said. “A lot of the conservation program is just public information. We try to remind people not to water the sidewalks, not to over-water their lawns and similar suggestions. This is something we’re actually required to do.”

Steve Banham, public works director for the city of Blaine, agreed. He said the signs are simply a reminder that water, although seemingly endless in supply, is limited and comes at a cost – even if that cost is not reflected in the monthly bill.

The city currently uses approximately 1.5 million gallons of water per day, including allocations for industry and irrigation. Birch Bay uses slightly more during the summer – about 1.7 million gallons – and slightly less than Blaine during the winter because of its seasonal population. Brown said that even when those two numbers are combined, the total water usage represents only 65 percent of the ground water rights the state has issued to this area.

Banham said he expects future water demand for Blaine to be proportionate to the projected population increase of four percent per year. This translates into an additional 23,000 gallons per day for the city of Blaine, for example.

“We expected a 2.5 percent per year growth over the last four or five years,” he said. “What we’ve seen is more like four percent growth rate in the last year.”

Banham said the city of Blaine plans to meet those projected increases by building new wells, such as the one planned on Boblett Street; increasing production of the wells currently in the watershed; increasing the pumping capacity in the design of new wells; and working to secure more ground water rights.

The Birch Bay water and sewer district, on the other hand, currently serves 6,800 water equivalent living units (ELUs), or units used to measure water consumption. Brown said the district has approved approximately 1,600 lots coming on line in the next few years, including some additional commercial spaces for which the ELU have not been defined yet. Even so, Brown said the community has more than enough water for such development.

In 2002, Birch Bay signed a contract with the city of Blaine to receive 2,560 acre-feet or 834 million gallons of water per year from the city. The contract is valid until 2062.

Brown also said Birch Bay plans to revise the community’s 20-year water plan, which was written in 2003, to more accurately reflect current population trends.

He said the plan estimated a 2.5 percent increase in the community’s population, but considering Birch Bay’s recent growth rates of 7 percent, that figure is woefully inadequate.

“We’re going back and taking another look at it considering the growth that has occurred,” he said. “At this point, we’re having to do projects sooner than we expected as per the comprehensive plan. It’s coming in more rapidly than we thought but we’ve been able to accelerate with projects more quickly in response.”

Birch Bay water and sewer district charges water and sewer connection fees to new developments called general facilities charges, which are designed to recover the cost of infrastructure already in place and pay for the impact of the new developments.

The district has used that money to construct current Birch Bay district projects such as the Harborview/Drayton Harbor waterline project and the upcoming expansion and upgrade to sewer pump station number three.

Brown said the district has also requested 720,000 gallons per day in additional ground water rights from the city of Blaine and has signed a contract with Whatcom County Public Utility District #1 for delivery of up to three million gallons per day from the Nooksack River.

Brown said, however, that while the Birch Bay water and sewer district has applied for additional water rights, conservation efforts are generally a less expensive way of providing water during peak times than constructing new facilities.

“Conservation is a very effective alternative to the costly development of facilities,” he said. “You can defer or even eliminate expensive peaking facilities, or facilities designed to meet demands during peak times.”

Plans for the Blaine water reclamation facility on Marine Drive in 2009 are also expected to conserve water by creating a high-quality effluent, that could be used for irrigation and industry.

Banham said the plant could produce as much as 350,000 to 400,000 gallons a day of water that can be safely used for irrigation and industry such as with Semiahmoo Golf Course. This, he said, would reduce the demand for fresh, potable water.

“Honestly, you don’t need to be pumping potable water into a lake,” he said. “The reuse water is very adequate for that.”

The public works department may also consider a scheme where residents would water their lawns on alternating days of the week but Banham said that likely would only be used in the event of a severe drought.

There is also talk of adopting a three-tiered system that would include metering water, educational outreach about water conservation and charging penalties for wasting water although he said some of the education may come in the form of increased rates.

“There’s nothing more educational than a high water bill,” he said.
At this point, however, Banham said voluntary measures seem to be sufficient. And, since the start of the campaign, the city experienced an approximate four percent reduction in water use – which had been climbing steadily in weeks prior.

“This community responds exceptionally well,” he said. “We really appreciate its voluntary effort.”