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Serious drought: City council to consider 5-step emergency plan

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A drought emergency declaration is on the Port Townsend City Council agenda for Monday, July 20 because of a historic low snowpack in the Olympic Mountains impacting the city's water supply in Lords Lake and City Lake.

Draft ordinance 3131would authorize City Manager David Timmons to implement provisions of the city's Drought Contingency Response Plan and modify that plan if necessary. It also would allow Timmons to order the immediate abatement of fire hazards upon the recommendation of East Jefferson Fire Rescue. There currently is a burn ban in effect in the city and through East Jefferson County – no camp fires, beach fires or any other kind of recreational or commercial outdoor fire.

The City Council meets at 6:30 p.m., Monday, July 20, in Council Chambers at 540 Water Street in Port Townsend.

The city drought declaration follows on the heels of a press conference July 17 by state officials who warned that the state is facing a “historic drought” that is impacting agriculture, fish and growing concerns about wildfires in the coming months with little rainfall in sight and dry conditions expected for the next two months.

STATE RAISES CONCERNS

During that press conference Friday, state Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon said that since the state called an emergency drought in May, conditions have deepened and that 98.6 percent of the state is now considered to be in a severe drought.

“It's remarkably worse than the droughts of 2005 as well as the drought of 2001 and by the end of the summer we predict that every single one of our 39 counties will qualify for federal disaster relief,” Bellon told reporters who listened in on the conference.

“I've said it before and it remands true today, we've never experienced a drought like this,” she said, adding that May and June were the driest months on the Olympic Peninsula since 1895.

“We're getting less rain than Phoenix, Arizona,” she said.

Port Townsend's actions on Monday were mentioned in that press conference as was a forum on July 14 in Chimacum on drought that brought more that 150 to hear what's happening on the Olympic Peninsula. (See the Leader issue of July 22 for a followup on that meeting.)

ACTION PLAN

For weeks city officials have urged water customers to be careful with water use. The emergency declaration would allow the city to make water restrictions mandatory, if necessary, depending on whether the drought continues. It also would allow the city manager to authorize any “immediate abatement of fire hazards and to seek court orders as necessary to accomplish the same.”

The draft ordinance says drought conditions exist within the city's watershed and that drought conditions “drastically increase the risk of fire within the city limits and within the city's watershed.”

If approved by the city council, the emergency order would take effect upon adoption.

The City of Port Townsend uses roughly 1 million gallons of water a day while the Port Townsend Paper Corp. uses anywhere from 9 million to 12 million gallons a day at the paper mill, the county's largest private employer.

City and mill officials are expected to look at meter calibrations in the next few weeks to determine why there is a discrepancy between what the mill thinks it uses and what the city thinks the mill uses.

City and mill officials are talking with one another about water issues, according to the city's water quality manager Ian Jablonski. And understanding the water issue, the mill recently installed three cooling towers in an effort to save about 2 million gallons of water a day, mill sustainability director Kevin Scott told a crowd gathered July 14 in Chimacum High School's auditorium to hear eight speakers talk about various drought-related issues.

A drought emergency response plan is included in the city council's agenda for consideration to be adopted July 20. It is posted online at cityofpt.us under the July 20 agenda.


The draft outlines five stages of an emergency drought:

Stage 1: Voluntary conservation

The City of Port Townsend currently is at this stage and during this stage, voluntary conservation measures are sought by customers with the city initiating water conservation measures in city parks and facilities. The city expects to postpone flushing and hydrant testing, ask the Port Townsend Golf Course to reduce watering tees and greens and ask the fire department to eliminate unnecessary use of water. Schools and Fort Worden State Park also would be asked to minimize outdoor watering during this stage.

Stage 2: Outdoor restrictions

When the water level in Lords Lake is at 15 feet and the stream flows are so low that the reservoir can't refill, mandatory restrictions would be put in place.

The key element of this stage is to reduce and/or eliminate outdoor use of water and water consumption by 10 percent, the draft says.

When Stage 2 is triggered, there would be alternating days for outdoor watering with even numbered addresses watering only on even numbered days and odd numbered addresses watering only on odd-number days.

Stage 3: Mandatory outdoor restrictions and indoor conservation

Should Lords Lake level off and stream flows prevent refilling the reservoir, additional restrictions would be imposed. A Stage 3 declaration would aim to further curtail outdoor use of water with a goal of reducing water consumption by 20 percent.

Car washing would be banned except at commercial car washes and customers would be limited to once-a-week outdoor watering. Water customers would be asked to reduce indoor water use.

Door hangars and personal contact would be used to notify violators and repeat violators would be subject to potential shutoff, according to the draft.

Stage 4: Pumping Lords Lake

When Lords Lake is at an estimated 30 million gallons to 40 million gallons below the bottom of the outlet structure, a portable pump may be installed to lift water into the outlet structure, the draft says. Pumping is required at a level of 3' to use the remaining water in the reservoir.

The entire volume of City Lake is reserved for municipal consumption and that necessary for “Paper Mill health and safety,” the draft states.

The city wants to be sure that 1 million gallons a day is available from storage until November 30 when the goal is to have City Lake with at least 70 million gallons available.

At this point, the paper mill will “cease production and limit water use” to what is essential for health and safety, which is estimated at 1 million gallons a day, the report states. That would occur when the total volume of the water reserved for municipal use is reached.

Stage 5: Water rationing

When Lords Lake is empty and City Lake is at 34' 6”, the Port Townsend City Council would be asked to do a Stage 5 declaration. The goal of that stage is to reduce consumption 30 percent below the average daily demand and to ensure City Lake is at half full by the end of November.

Under this directive, no outdoor use would be permitted, non-critical accounts would be turned off after notification to customers, penalties such as monetary or shutoff would be applied for violators.

CITY AND MILL

The city and mill representatives are to meet monthly to discuss the water system and other issues of mutual concern, the draft says.

When Lords Lake's level is at 25 feet, the city and mill meetings would be held weekly and if the water levels reach a Stage 2 response level, the city and the mill would be tasked with keeping the state Department of Health Office of Drinking Water and the Jefferson County Department of Health advised.

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