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2 broken City wells may lead to water conservation in Auburn

Auburn residents may be asked to conserve water this summer because of inoperative water wells.

One water well pump at Fulmer Field recently broke apart, dropping to the bottom, likely causing the failure of a neighboring well and affecting the water quality of a third well, City officials said.

With two wells off line and the third limited, officials realized that the City would not be able to meet daily peak summer demand for water and fire flow requirements. Given these problems, the City's current supply capacity is 11 million gallons per day, but the total anticipated summer peak demand is 16.8 million gallons per day, leaving a possible deficit of 5.8 million gallons per day.

City Council members discussed the situation in a closed-door executive session last week, and emerged with a resolution authorizing "emergency contracting and water conservation measures." The purpose was to give Mayor Pete Lewis the authority to bypass usual bidding procedures so workers could quickly replace one pump well and bring the other wells back on line.

"If we went through our regular process, we'd have to put the whole thing out to bid," Lewis said. "In the winter, the City would do that, but because it is summer we need to get the replacement pump in. This way, we can just go out and buy the pump and have somebody install it in like a week."

Auburn's City Code not only empowers the mayor to waive certain contracting requirements in situations where public health and safety may be affected, it also grants the mayor authority to declare various stages of water emergencies and to implement water conservation measures as needed.

The damage to well six is suspected of having caused production to slow at well two, so that by fixing six, two will be fixed at the same time. Well seven, which is producing water, nevertheless has a high manganese content and must be blended with the water from the other wells to be usable, officials said.

“Well seven is pumping its brains out, but it needs the blend,” Lewis said.

In addition to plugging the submersible pump into well six, the City is setting up a water tie-in with Tacoma Water per a recent agreement with Cascade Water Alliance, owners of Lake Tapps. But the pipe won’t be in until September.

The resolution gives the mayor authority to operate water interties with the City of Kent and with the Lakehaven Utilities District to use their water if necessary. The City also may open an intertie with the City of Bonney Lake to supply the Lakeland Hills service area.

If necessary, the City could invoke an interrupt agreement with Covington Water District and Water District 111.

"We had an agreement with them to supply them water before I was on the Council," Lewis said. "It's an interruptable agreement, which means that if we ever have a day or days when we have to turn it off because we can't supply the water, we can just turn it off."

These supply options are estimated to result in 4.2 million additional gallons.

In addition the resolution authorizes the mayor to implement stage 1-4 emergency conservation measures as conditions warrant.

"If we really got a hot day, we would start with voluntary or mandatory conservation targets," Lewis said.

The City's handling of the resolution's discussion and approval has raised eyebrows.

Asked whether a water emergency fell under one of the few allowable exemptions to the state's Open Meetings Act that would allow it to be discussed behind closed doors, City Attorney Dan Heid said this week that he believed it was justified because of the possibility of potential litigation, which is an an allowable exemption.

"I'm the one who advised the Council to do that, and I take responsibility," Heid said.

Also, the procedure is to announce to those members of the public outside the closed-door session whether the council would take any action in open session, and Lewis stepped out of the executive session nearly an hour into it to announce that there would be no action taken that night. Acting on that information, the press left the council chambers. But the council did emerge later to approve the resolution.

Lewis called it a simple mistake.

"I had not seen the resolution ahead of time, and I didn't realize there was to be any action until our city attorney brought it forward," Lewis said.

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Water watch

Stage 1: Anticipated water shortage. If a shortage appears imminent, the City will conduct public education regaring the benefits and necessity of reducing consumption

Stage 2: Serious water shortage. Voluntary curtailment – During this stage, the City will recommend specific voluntary curtailment actions for both residential and commercial customers.

Stage 3: Critical water shortage: Limited outdoor restrictions — If the voluntary stage does not result in the reduction needed, the City may prohibit or limit certain activities. This stage would be accompanied by an enforcement plan that could include finde for repeated violations.

Stage 4: Emergency water shortage. Mandatory outdoor restrictions and indoor curtailment.

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