Friday, January 10, 2014

Drought is Likely: So Why are we giving so much Mountain Water to Industry?

Even though it's raining and snow finally is coming to the mountains, you've no doubt heard about the pitiful snow packs at the ski resorts and parks.
Based on [Crater Lake] park records, the on-ground snow total of 4 inches at the park’s weather station Tuesday morning was the lowest in recorded history, since record keeping began in 1931. The previous record on Jan. 7 was 14 inches in 1990; while the normal on-ground total for Jan. 7 is 70 inches. [Herald and News]
It looks like the National Drought Mitigation Center is projecting us for a drought this year, and the way we manage our water supply has implications for the way we manage city growth and city budgets.

Drought Monitor for Oregon:  Moderate Drought for us!
via National Drought Mitigation Center, January report
According to climate change assessments, this is likely to be more and more common.

Creeks feeding the Santiam and Willamette Rivers
will be low in 2040!
from last year's Climate Assessment
Last November Council moved to initiate what looks to be an 18" water main to serve future industry near Turner Road and I-5 and Kuebler

A big water main to serve industrial development
We have really nice drinking water from mountain snow pack right now. There's every indication that this is going to become a more scarce resource in the future.

Are Salemites creating a situation in which future industry will have a greater claim to our mountain drinking water than our citizens and residential customers?

And will our expansion of water service to industry (remember we also have that big Mill Creek industrial park the City is pushing) accelerate the timeline for reverting to drinking water from the Willamette - and all the caffeine, endocrine-disruptors, and pesticide residue this entails?

This is something that Salemites may not have given sufficient attention to!

There's also the question whether the development on the periphery of the city will ever pay enough in fees and taxes to warrant the capital costs of infrastructure to serve it. (See Strong Towns on the "growth ponzi scheme.")

Like rail, water isn't a core matter for the blog, and I have no idea how big an 18" water main really is relative to the total supply or to a normal range of water main sizes.  But what I am sure of, is that Salem was late to the pure drinking water thing, building access to mountain water only in the late 1930s (Portland and Eugene were several decades earlier).  Up to then we had water from the Willamette, sourced from under Minto Island near the Pringle Creek and Slough confluence.  The Willamette was also a sewer for industry and home. You get the picture:  The water wasn't clean, and illness too frequent.

We may not fully appreciate how wonderful it is that we don't have to drink water from the Willamette.  We may also not appreciate how much longer that wonderful state is likely to last.

Come this summer, when drought makes water scarcer, and a cool drink all the more pleasant after a ride, it may be we'll want to think a lot harder about it.


Jim Scheppke said...

How many Salemites know that we have to pump water in a big pipe under the river to West Salem and then up into the hills so that all those wealthy folks with a view can get a drink? I wonder how much cheaper our water would be in Salem if we'd never annexed West Salem? In hindsight, that might have been a mistake, speaking as a flatlander.

Walker said...

Fascinating, the city recently began charging people more based on their particular impervious surface area (storm water) and they recently added Insult to injury by hitting me with a monthly fee for the strenuous and taxing work of noting whether I follow the law and get my back flow preventer on my underground irrigation connection checked every year.

So, reasoning suggests that equity requires that water users who impose huge costs on the system -- like tremendous energy usage for pumping water, with all the attendant greenhouse gas emissions and capital costs -- should pay a higher tariff for each unit of water.

Of course, as the saying goes in the arid west, "Water flows uphill to money."