FAQ Regarding Amity's Water
Updated May 29, 2020
***Updated May 29, 2020***
What is the water restriction?
We ask that you balance your water wants and needs. We ask that you hold off on major water consumption actions for the next 4-weeks, beginning May 26th. We ask that you do not water yards, landscaping, large gardens, and plants; wash cars and power wash one's property; and fill up backyard pools. We also ask that you take other generic water saving actions on a daily basis.
It comes down to - would you rather have a brown lawn and water to put out a house fire or a green lawn and a house that burnt to the ground? That's an extreme choice, but think of it that way, please, when you balance your water needs/wants. The City is requesting your help to ensure we have the water necessary to meet surges in demand, such as a major firefighting operation, please.
We have enough water to meet daily average demand and a moderate surge capacity, but the margins are razor thin!
Why the water restrictions?
The City is currently repairing large portions of our water infrastructure at the Treatment Facility, west of town, and at the Water Reservoir Facility at the northeast edge of town. Here is what we're doing and the need for the restrictions.
At the Treatment Facility, we're about to finish the repairs to 1 of our 2 treatment and filtration systems. We need to conduct an operational checkout of the new filter system, which requires backwashing the system. Backwashes take considerable water, which we need to compensate for with extra water. Usually, we have enough water in reserve to accomplish this without any issues.
When the work on the first filter is complete, then we'll run both filters for a few days to help fill our reservoirs, then we'll take the other filter offline to begin its refurbishment, repair, and renovation.
However, we're also conducting the repairs at our Water Reservoir Facility. We're replacing piping and valves leading to our tanks, which as anyone who has done home water repair knows, means turning off the water. For the City we need to take a reservoir offline while we do this work. We have two working reservoirs, when the first reservoir is completed, we'll bring it online, fill it, and then take the second tank offline to do the same work for that tank. (Note: when all of the work is complete, we'll have all three of our reservoirs up and running!)
So, the combination of taking a reservoir offline and needing more water to conduct backwashes, while also holding enough rater in reserve for supply, firefighting, and other emergencies, means we're tight on our water supply.
Again, we have enough water to meet daily average demand and a moderate surge capacity, but the margins are razor thin!
Why didn't you give us more warning?
While we considered giving our community more warning, doing so could have induced a water crisis we are proactively avoiding. If prior to Memorial Day weekend the City said, "on May 26th we may have to impose water restrictions..." it is likely many community members would have consumed a large amount of water, draining the water in our reserves faster than our calculations allowed.
However, knowing that our community members were looking forward to their first 3-day weekend with looser COVID-19 restrictions, we chose to impose these restrictions after the weekend. Our City Engineers, Public Works, and our contracted construction crews are constantly monitoring the water levels and work schedules to minimize the impact upon the community. Unfortunately, restricting water at this time is unavoidable.
Did you have to do it this way? Why not do the work at night or pace out the work?
Each project is scheduled to accomplish work in a particular order. Our City Engineers, Public Works, and our contracted construction crews plan this work to the best of their ability to deconflict major actions. They even insert "padding" into the schedule to provide flexibility when conflicts arise. However, there are always unforeseen incidents that change schedules, timelines, and requirements. That this work - the filter backwashes and reservoir going offline - might overlap was a known and unavoidable situation. What we didn't foresee was a rising water demand due to COVID-19 and hotter weather coming earlier. While our team did a lot of work to avoid having to impose water restrictions, it is now unavoidable.
As far as working at nights and weekends, we are doing this when and where it is possible. However, our Federal Government funding is limited and that restricts the ability to pay for overtime work.
Could you do the work without backwashes and taking reservoirs offline?
Unfortunately, no. To ensure the fidelity of the work, DEQ and the EPA require certain standards are met.
These standards require backwashes. Also, it is neither safe nor effective to repair piping while the water is flowing.
***Updated May 29, 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.
The City secured a $465,680 loan (of which $247,840 is a forgivable loan -- or "grant") to relocate the water transmission line across the Salt Creek Bridge on Hwy 153 at the west side of town.
This bridge is due for repair in 2022 by ODOT. We (the City) are required to move the water transmission line off the bridge before they begin repairs. At the end of March 2020, ODOT put a weight limit on this bridge, as it becomes weaker. This is hastening the City's desire to move our pipe away from the bridge to ensure we will continue to provide our community clean, potable water.
Now that the City has secured the loan, it started a statement of work and will undertake the initial design/engineering on the project in June 2020.
What are the improvements?
There are 4 projects the City is working upon:
Project #1) Replace the purification filters at the Water Treatment Plant. This project is underway! Expected completion Fall 2020.
Project #2) Repair and renovate the City's Water Reservoirs, increasing capacity, improving flow, and simplifying maintenance requirements. This project is underway! Expected completion Fall 2020.
Project #3) Move the water intake point and renovate the Water Treatment Plant. The City and its State and Federal partners intend to move the water intake point up the river to a deeper and faster running part of its source river. The intake itself will also be improved, to increase functionality and capacity. The Water Treatment Plant will be modernized, expanded, and repaired. This project is paused and is expected to recommence in late summer or early fall 2020.
Project #4) Relocation of the water transmission line across the Salt Creek. The City is working to not only move the pipe, but to improve the pipe’s throughput capacity. The City has secured the financing for this project!
At one point, the City intended to replace every water meter in the city with new modern, more accurate devices. However, the capacity and funding for this project is not yet there and this project may be delayed until 2021 or later.
We've not seen anything. What, if anything, have you accomplished so far?
Project #1) Stettler is dismantling, cleaning and repairing each water filtration system. They will install new components and improve functionality. This will increase the amount of water the City can treat and purify every day.
Project #2) Elk Mountain is currently excavating the area and is working on locating and assessing the functionality of every component (valve, meter, faucet, etc). Those that are not operating perfectly will be repaired or replaced. Over the next few months, Elk Mountain will drain, repair, and refurbish each of our reservoir tanks and then refill them. Finally, they will integrate the whole system into one fully functional system, integrated into the City's full water delivery infrastructure.
Project #3) The City is still awaiting an update regarding the archaeological survey done along the path of the new water intake point and transmission line to the treatment facility. Until that occurs, and the City can determine an appropriate mitigation plan and way ahead, this portion of the project remains paused.
Project #4) The City secured funding for the relocation project. We have started the scope of work and expects initial design/engineering to begin in June 2020. We expect to go out for this bids later this summer and begin the work in late 2020 or early 2021.
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.
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 its early stages and an accurate timeline is not established, but we expect to begin the project in late 2020 or early 2021. A timeline for the replacement of the City’s water meters is not established, but may begin in 2021 or later.
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.
What changes have happened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Right now, the City is continuing each of the 4 projects listed above. State and Federal Authorities consider our infrastructure projects to be essential. They have directed the City and our contractors to continue our work and to take every necessary precaution available. As we begin to reopen our economy while still in the middle of the pandemic, the City, its contractors, and state and federal partners are continuing the project while being effective, efficient, safe, and in compliance with the State OHA guidance. Even as we ramp up, there may be delays to getting components, materials, and labor. We are adapting as we move along to accommodate these changes. This is new to all of us and we're doing the best we can to keep the projects moving.