FAQ Regarding Amity's Water
Updated January 5, 2020
Is my water safe to drink?
Yes. Amity’s water is tested on a regular schedule and meets all of the quality and safety requirements set by both the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Feel free to stop by Amity City Hall to get a paper copy of our last annual report on Amity’s water.
But my water was brown recently. Doesn’t that make it unsafe? Would you drink it?
The water is safe to drink. You are right it did not look nice at the beginning of July 2019. The sediment in the water was neither toxic nor dangerous. We do not like to drink water that is brown in color either. Yet, we test the water to ensure it meets EPA and DEQ standards for purity and safety. Feel free to stop by Amity City Hall to get a paper copy of our last annual report on Amity’s water; that states our water’s purity and safety.
Why was the water brown right before July 4, 2019?
It was brown due to a glitch when shutting a fire hydrant valve; a term called “hammering.” The City legally sold water to a construction firm, which took the water from a hydrant to fill a tanker truck. Upon completion of the process, the valve was shut too abruptly, causing the flow of water to backwash through the entire city system. As our water system adjusted, the water surged back and forth through the pipes.
It is similar to crimping a garden hose. When one crimps (or bends) a garden hose while it is running, the flow stops suddenly, but the water backs up at the crimp. Then when one releases the crimp the water surges as the backup clears out. This is similar to what occurred to Amity’s water system. This kicked up sediment in the pipes and turned the water brown. Flushing the system (residents running their faucets and the City’s Public Works releasing water) cleared up the water.
The City works with many entities that use the fire hydrants. Due to this unfortunate incident, the City will be more stringent about who is allowed to tap our fire hydrants. We commit to doing more to ensure non-city entities know how to properly open and close our hydrants. To this end, we are studying a future requirement that entities pay penalties for “hammering” our water system.
Sediment? From where? How did sediments get into the pipes?
All drinkable water running through any pipe system has millions of microscopic-sized mineral particles floating within. These microscopic particles sink over time and do build up over the years, settling at the bottom of the pipes. This is what was kicked up when the water system was “hammered.”
The City has a program in place to periodically flush the city’s pipes of sediments. When flushed, the water in the pipes is agitated in a controlled fashion, kicking up the sediment, and the water is sent into the City’s waste treatment system. This process helps keep the City’s water system clear of sediments. However, this is a water, time, and labor intensive process and is done only periodically.
Although the City works to clean its water infrastructure, such sediments may also come from the pipes on your property or inside your residence. Your pipes are of various qualities, depending upon the age of the house. Older homes, especially those built prior to World War II, may have untreated pipes that often rust or corrode. This rust may enter your water and discolor it. This may explain why some houses see more brown water than others.
Water heaters also need to be inspected and cleaned over their service life. Old water heaters can produce sediments, too, turning tap water brown. If you are experiencing discoloration when you use hot water, but not cold water, it may be due to the water heater.
The City recommends that you check your pipes and water heater, especially if you have an older home.
But the City stated it has old pipes during the 10 July 2019 City Council Meeting. Isn’t this the culprit, the City’s old pipe system?
While the City of Amity - and many municipalities across the country - has a hodgepodge of pipes, these pipes were built to the safety codes and standards of their era. The City repairs and replaces pipes routinely, to ensure you have the highest quality, safe water from the source all the way to the connection point with your residence, regardless of the age of our infrastructure.
Does sediment enter into the pipes from outside? The City has had numerous leaking pipes; can impurities enter the pipes and contaminate our water that way?
This is unlikely. When there is a sizable leak, the escaping water pressure drives everything out of the pipe, not into it. Amity also chlorinates our water to kill bacteria that may be seep into the water. Chlorination and testing ensures the water stays safe to drink.
If you are interested in learning more about municipal water chlorination please check out this website.
Where is Amity’s water coming from?
Amity’s water comes from the South Yamhill River. It is piped to a treatment facility and then it is piped to the City. Our treatment facility ensures that the water from the river is made clean, safe, and drinkable before entering the City’s water system.
Do we use well water (underground reservoirs)?
No. Although some residents and agricultural operations draw from wells, the City pulls water from the river.
Why doesn’t Amity tap into the underground reservoirs that other cities use? Why not get water from the same source as McMinnville?
It would be prohibitively expensive to pipe water from McMinnville’s water source into Amity or use an underground reservoir. If our City Council approved using McMinnville’s water source, it would take years to construct the required infrastructure.
McMinnville has much better water. Why is our water worse than theirs?
Amity’s water meets the same DEQ/EPA standard as McMinnville’s for quality and purity.
McMinnville’s water costs a lot less than Amity’s water. Why do I pay so much?
A 2019 independent study of comparable water consumption rates concluded that Amity does not have the highest rates in Yamhill County. As of July 2019, Amity’s water rates are $17.89 cheaper per month than the highest rates in the county; overall, Amity is in the middle of the pack of Yamhill County municipalities. But, Amity is $39.67 more expensive per month than McMinnville, as of July 2019. It should be noted that Sheridan, in August 2019, approved a water and sewer rate increase.
There are many reasons for this. Our relative population to McMinnville is a reason. At last count Amity is right under 1,700 people. McMinnville is right under 34,000 people. Therefore, McMinnville can spread the cost of its water service over 20 times more customers. In other words, if the cost of running a municipal water system is $100 and Amity has 10 consumers, each will pay $10. If McMinnville has 200 consumers (20 times bigger), for the same $100 cost, each consumer will pay 50 cents. This is one reason why Amity pays more.
Another reason is the economies of scale gained by operating a large system. Yes, McMinnville does have a larger infrastructure and more employees, leading to higher costs. Yet, McMinnville also does things in large scale; the size of their system and the quantities in which they work provide economies of scale (like buying in bulk).
Finally, and most importantly, each city gets to choose its own water rates independently of other cities. Municipal governments and utilities often use dozens of variables to determine optimal rates. What is factored into the rate calculation (the “how and why”) adds complexity to the process, making further comparisons between Amity and other cities, like McMinnville, difficult.
Did my rates go up? How much did my rates go up? Why do they go up?
Yes, your base water rate goes up by $5 (five dollars) this month - January 2020. You will see the increase in your next water bill. This is to ensure the City can repay the US Department of Agriculture / Rural Development's (USDA/RD) loan requirements for a $1.635 million loan the City accepted on July 31, 2019.
The City also raises rates when required, to meet the costs necessary to operate and maintain its water system and to ensure the overall long-term fiscal solvency of the enterprise. (Usually, the City has raised rates in alignment with Consumer Price Indexes.)
What are you doing with all of the money we are paying you?
The City uses your money to operate and maintain the water system on a daily basis. The City is also undertaking a multi-year improvement program to renovate and repair its water system. In partnership with State and Federal agencies, the City has accepted a USDA/RD loan, USDA/RD grants, and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) grants to pay for this work. Often, the City must provide matching funds and/or make initial deposits to receive the State and Federal loans and grants; matching funds and deposits come from your water payments. The City described the use of loans and grants during the July 10, 2019 City Council Meeting. Water rates are also used to determine the solvency of the enterprise and your payments ensure that the City has funds available to repay its loan obligation.
Why did the City accept this financial burden?
The City accepted this loan as a part of a $5.579 million funding package that included the loan, but also nearly $4 million in grants! For a City of our size and for a project of this complexity, this is an extraordinary deal for the City. No project of this size and complexity can be paid for solely with grants, and only a few (very large) cities maintain enough internal capital to even consider undertaking such a project without seeking financial assistance. To provide our community members safe, clean drinkable water now and into the future, this project is needed and this financing is necessary.
What are the improvements?
Within one project, the City and its State and Federal partners intend to move the water intake point to a deeper and faster running part of its source river. The intake itself will also be improved, to increase functionality and capacity. The other portions of the project will upgrade the water treatment facility and repair and improve the reservoir; increasing capacity, improving flow, and simplifying maintenance requirements. We will do this while maintaining the quality, safety, and capacity of your drinking water. This is the $5.579 million project.
In a separate project with the State, the City will move and improve its pipeline across Salt Creek. This is being done in conjunction with ODOT’s plan to improve the Highway 153 road bridge across Salt Creek. The City runs a water pipe along the bridge; repairs to the bridge require us to move the pipe. The City is working to not only move the pipe, but to improve the pipe’s throughput capacity. The City is still seeking grant funding for this project.
Finally, the City is also considering replacing every water meter in the city with a modern, more accurate device. Replacing water meters will, in time, do a lot to reduce water rates for many users. The new technology more precisely measures user’s consumption than what is currently in place. This measurement accuracy results in more accurate water billing. For many Amity water users that will result in lower bills; for some higher bills. But, these new meters are extremely expensive to buy. To save cost, time, and labor, the City is attempting to incorporate the installation of these meters into one of the other projects mentioned above. This is not a certainty. However, if it is not possible to complete this with another project, then the City will complete the task by purchasing and installing the meters over time.
We've not seen anything. What, if anything, have you accomplished so far?
You're right, there is little to be seen in the area of physical work ("turning dirt") related to the three infrastructure projects listed previously. That doesn't mean the City has not be active in managing your water system.
First, the City has spent time and money to conduct the engineering development, design, and planning of the work to be done regarding the projects listed previously. The City has put considerable effort into minimizing the environmental impact of the work to be done while meeting other State and Federal regulations regarding infrastructure projects of this magnitude. There has been considerable effort put into designing the system to be effective and efficient now and into the future, once completed. Also, the City is establishing procedures and plans to ensure that the "turning dirt" phase of the project(s) has a minimal impact on the ability of the City to provide water and sewer service.
While most of the activity has been "behind the scenes" it is necessary to do this. It is vital to ensure we have met the legal requirements to do the work safely, effectively, efficiently, and quickly when it begins. Unfortunately, this process takes considerable time. Each entity and agency with a stake in the project has the authority to review, revise, change, approve or reject, any of the activities, plans, decisions, designs, etc. the City undertakes during this process. So, imagine the complexity of designing and building a massive infrastructure project that includes oversight from approximately a dozen entities and agencies! Each step comes with associated costs both in money and time. These dollar costs are paid by the loan and grant money, as well as by the City's own funds. The City uses your taxes, fees, and utility rates as the funds (budget) by which it repays the loan and pays for other costs associated with the water infrastructure.
Additionally, the City has been engaging with all of our partners to ensure we conduct the work intelligently and with respect for everyone affected by the work. For example, the City is working with multiple agencies to ensure we respect the cultural heritage of our Native American community members. This includes a required archaeological excavation along the route of our desired water line. An activity that is now underway. As of December 1, 2019, the archaeological site activities are complete and the analysis is underway.
The City has been respectful of our Native American community members and the local (current) property owners to conduct this vital work, while minimizing the environmental damage and disruption to ODOT rights-of-way. The planning, development, and execution of this activity required considerable costs in time, labor, and money.
Progress is being made. In January 2020, the City will host Pre-construction Meetings with the winners of the bids for the Water Reservoir and the Emergency Filters. This will establish the timeline, management, rules, and deliverables for each contractor as they begin their work. Work is expected to get underway in February to install the filters. Work on the reservoir is expected to begin in February or March 2020 and will take most of the summer.
The City still needs to pay for the current operations of the system. The City's Public Works is out there everyday doing the daily monitoring, upkeep, and maintenance such a system requires -- working to patch leaks, repair water meters, ensuring the water and sewer treatment systems' pumps and valves operate, and responding to your - our customers and consumers - needs. The costs of their tools, materials, time, and labor is paid from your utility bills, as budgeted by the City for the year.
How long will these water projects take and why?
The City and its State and Federal partners estimate that it will complete the water intake, water treatment, and water reservoir projects in the last few months of 2021. The pipe across the Salt Creek is still in the planning stages and an accurate timeline is not established. A timeline for the replacement of the City’s water meters is not established. If the City can accomplish meter replacement in conjunction with one of the other projects, it will align with that project’s timeline.
When partnering with State and Federal agencies, such as USDA/RD, they set the timelines and allocate the money. Additionally, there are numerous laws and regulations associated with every project that the City must follow. The City may only undertake each aspect of the program within these set timelines, once the money is obligated, and after showing legal compliance with all of the relevant Federal and State laws and regulations. Again, this is a lengthy process!
Finally, the City completes each aspect of the project as fast as engineering, the environment, labor, resources, and safety allow. The City demands that projects are done right the first time; it will not sacrifice the safety, quality, and integrity of a project’s completion to meet a timeline.