Prineville’s water search dry so far

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: February 03. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – The city of Prineville is running out of drinking water, and officials have come up dry after digging three wells and spending almost $1 million.

Consultants for the city dug three wells last year at a cost of about $970,000, Assistant City Manager Jerry Gillham said.

Two of the wells did not produce any water. A third at the Crook County Fairgrounds brought up some water that was not of high enough quality.

Prineville currently has eight working wells that are almost at capacity for the daily water needs of local residents, Gillham said, and more development is on the way.

“We have the potential of running out of water,” he said.

“The peak demand or maximum day consumption almost puts us at what we can provide, and that’s without new growth, that’s just existing population.”

The city is now working on a plan to dig two new wells and figure out what to do with the three failed ones. Officials are also exploring the possibility of legal action to recoup the funds, according to a news release from the city of Prineville.

Gillham and City Manager Robb Corbett said they do not want to discuss the specific problems with how the wells were drilled because of possible litigation. But Gillham said that the usual procedure is for a hydrogeologist to examine an area for water potential and then dig a test well that is smaller in diameter than a regular well.

The city’s working wells each provide between 220 and 550 gallons of water per minute, Gillham said. The two new wells combined would hopefully produce about 1,500 gallons per minute.

“We need to get over the hump of having enough water to ease that anxiety,” he said. “We also know that we have new development on the horizon and it’s not going away anytime soon, and we need to continue building the capacity for that as well.”

Bend-based developer Brooks Resources is planning a mixed-use development in Prineville known as IronHorse that will eventually add about 2,900 homes to the city, almost doubling Prineville’s overall housing supply.

The wells project occurred before Gillham arrived in Prineville last September. Since the city eliminated the position of a public works director two weeks ago in a move that has generated controversy, Gillham has assumed oversight over all public works projects.

The city hired a new team of water consultants and engineers from two companies, Portland-based Groundwater Solutions and Englewood, Colo.-based CH2M Hill. They will begin examining sites and doing tests for the two new wells. Once the wells are OK’d, it should cost around $400,000 each to dig them and the wells would be completed by July, Gillham said.

Prineville originally contracted with Boart Longyear, which has its headquarters in Salt Lake City, in October 2005 to drill four wells at a cost of $1 million, the release said. A geologist on the project, John Sprecher, later resigned over the failure to find water, according to the release.

The cost of building wells is covered by water system development charges, which are fees charged to new construction to offset growth. Andy Parks, a financial consultant for the city, said that Prineville’s water SDCs fund had a deficit of about $550,000 for the last fiscal year ending June 30, 2006. That does not include an $800,000 bank loan the city took out last July, Parks said. He added that repayment of the loan should be covered by the amount of money the city will collect in water SDCs in the future.

As the city continues to grow, its wastewater system is also nearing capacity. Corbett said that the city is currently growing at a rate of about 500 housing units a year. That means that the city’s wastewater treatment system, which has been expanded and was completed in 2006, may need to grow again in the near future.

“That’s just the reality of growth – you never know how fast it’s going to come,” Corbett said. “We hope that with continued maintenance we’ll be able to stay ahead of what’s happening in terms of growth, but again, it’s not going to be enough to really put off another expansion here in the near future.”

The city is referring to its efforts to solve Prineville’s water problems as the “Big Dig,” a name taken from a massive public works project in Boston. That project, which rerouted the main interstate through the city, came in more than $12 billion over budget, and a woman died when a cement panel from a new tunnel’s ceiling collapsed on her car.

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