Vale officials dust off water rationing plans – just in case

Vale City Manager Todd Fuller shows one of the monitoring displays at a water well facility on the city’s north side last week. Fuller said city officials are reviewing plans for water rationing as the drought continues to grip the region. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

VALE – There is no shortage of water yet but Vale city officials are already reviewing plans to ration if drought conditions continue through the summer.

“We are definitely looking at ways, as a city, to conserve water,” said Vale Mayor Tom Vialpando.

Areas of Malheur County are rated as in either severe or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The city depends on eight wells to provide drinking water to residents and last summer two of those wells went dry, said City Manager Todd Fuller.

Water pulled from area reservoirs such as Bully Creek and Warm Springs recharges the water table and fills city wells, Fuller said.

The ongoing drought means reservoirs contain less water which, in turn, impacts the water table.

“Any water coming into our area will affect our water table and we don’t have as much water flowing in from reservoirs in the area,” said Fuller.

Last week, Warm Springs Reservoir was just 17% full while Beulah Reservoir was 45% full. Bully Creek was 59% full as of last week.

While there is no shortage for the city now, Fuller and Vialpando said the city needs to be prepared.

“It’s not just our city. It’s across Oregon,” said Fuller.

Fuller said he recently presented the Vale City Council with the potential water rationing concept.

“I put it to them, just so you know we have this option. I am not extremely worried about it. I just want to make sure we are ahead of it in case we do get into that situation,” he said.

Fuller said city ordinances govern water rationing.

Under city code, the first step in a water conservation effort would be voluntary. If voluntary water conservation doesn’t reduce use enough, the next step, according to city code, is a mandatory first level curtailment. Certain actions would be prohibited such as using water to wash vehicles or buildings or to refill swimming or jacuzzi pools.

A second mandatory curtailment would limit total water use by city customers. For example, one person would be limited to 80 gallons of water during a 24-hour period.

Those who violate restrictions could be fined $100 for the first instance and $250 for a second.

“I don’t know if it (the water curtailment ordinance) has ever been used or not but I think it could be a possibility,” he said.

Fuller said the city’s future steps with water rationing depend on a number of factors outside of the control of officials.

“But if three or four wells go down, we might have to do voluntary” curtailment, he said.

The peak water use, he said, is in July and August.

Another challenge to any water rationing plan, said Fuller, is enforcement.

“A lot of people have their own personal wells. So, it seems like it would be a logistical nightmare. But I would hope the community would understand and we wouldn’t have to go out and police someone because they are washing their vehicle,” said Fuller.

Fuller said the crucial point is to be prepared because “hope is not a strategy.”

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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