It's all about the water

Cheney Free Press 'Year in Review'


January 4, 2018

Officials hope a $1.8 million redrill of Cheney's well 3 - shown above on Erie Street - will go a long ways to solving the city's water supply problem, particularly when it comes to the expanded, and hotter irrigation season.

For the third time in four years, Cheney restricts irrigation uses



The top story of 2017 literally begins under everybody's feet.

Water was on the minds, if not always coming out of the faucets - inside and outside - of West Plains residents. In Cheney, water issues once again took the form of restrictions enacted to meet a supply emergency in mid July, just as it did in July 2015 and in August 2014.

In 2014, lightning knocked out pumps at Wells 6 and 7 along State Route 904 towards Tyler, leading to reservoirs being drawn down to around the seven-foot marks and leading to irrigation restrictions. In 2015, an extended period of temperatures running into the high 90s in June led to drawn downs near the 11-foot range, again leading to irrigation restrictions outside the odd-even day watering cycle city officials asked residents to observe.

Cheney typically institutes a watering schedule, to accomplish this, limiting residential and business watering to specific times and days according to their address.

Last July, the city's 2,134-foot deep Well 5 experienced mechanical problems, forcing its shutdown on June 29. Initially thought to be a quick fix at the top by replacing motor bearings, when the contractor pulled the column apart on July 6 at the Presley Drive well, they found lower bearings along the pump shaft had also seized up.

"This will require removing as much pump piping and shaft as necessary to ensure that the problem has been corrected," Cheney water resource manager Dan Ferguson said in a July 13 Cheney Free Press story.

At the time, Public Works Director Todd Ableman estimated a "worst case scenario" for the pump to be down for about two weeks, starting Monday, July 10.

Irrigation demands during the summer, especially in hot weather, typically reduce the level in the city's four reservoirs, located between North Ninth and North Tenth streets, which hold a combined 4.4 million gallons of water. With increased demand stemming from hot weather beginning in late spring straining reservoir levels, the loss of well 5 compounded the problem.

Reservoir levels hit their lowest level of 11.7 feet on Friday, July 7. Residents adhering to the irrigation restrictions helped levels climb to 20.23 feet by July 18 and the city relaxed its restrictions, returning to the normal watering schedule.

The city was also helped by Eastern Washington University, which provided about 300 gallons per minute during the day throughout the restrictions.

Water usage and availability were on residents' minds before and after the July emergency. During contested public hearings and comments in March on a proposed student-housing complex - Parkside Commons - at Cedar and North Eighth streets, residents often brought up irrigation restrictions as reasons for denying the property-owners' requests to increase the zoning density on the land.

That may have been more of a case of "Not in my backyard," however, as another apartment complex application on First Street between K and L streets received virtually no comments - on water or otherwise.

Concerns about Cheney's water supply surfaced at meetings ranging from the Planning Commission to the school board, and in letters to the editor. City officials contend the issue isn't about running short of water, noting that for 6-7 months during the year they are able to supply more than an adequate amount of water using just two of the city's seven potable wells.

Officials also note the city currently uses about 2,900 gallons per minute of its 5,400 gallons per minute water rights. The problem, they believe, comes from an earlier, dryer and hotter irrigation season that creates more demands on the system from residential irrigation.

Data presented by Ableman at a May 2 public meeting on the city's water efficiency plan indicate Cheney households used an average of 339 gallons per day in 2016, with 59 percent of that going to irrigation. This contrasts with a reported U.S. statistical average of 300 gallons per day, with 30 percent being used for irrigation.

Of the 503 million gallons sold in 2016, 40 percent was to single-family users, with multifamily accounting for 32 percent and commercial and large users the rest.

City officials see water consumption, particularly from irrigation, as an issue that will continue to grow. Several solutions have been proposed, including a $1.8 million redrill of Cheney's dormant well 3 and a multimillion dollar expansion of the wastewater treatment plant to allow for creation of a reclaimed water system for use on parks and other playing fields.

John McCallum can be reached at

Airway Heights residents' water contaminated by chemicals

On May 16, officials from Fairchild Air Force Base and Airway Heights announced that two water wells used by the city tested over 70 parts per trillion for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and/or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contamination, which was above Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lifetime health advisory levels.

The city tested two of its wells in light of the sampling of private wells located near Fairchild Air Force Base for PFAS and PFOA contamination. These chemicals were classified by the EPA as "emerging contaminants" and can be found in household items, as well as heat and fire-resistant products including an aqueous film forming foam, which was used by the Air Force for firefighting training purposes from 1970 to 2016. The test results of two wells, located near MacFarlane Road and Lawson Street, were obtained after preliminary sampling conducted by the Air Force.

After receiving the news, Airway Heights started to wash out its water system. With the first round of flushing 15 million gallons of water, six of Airway Heights' wells were still over the Environmental Protection Agency's perfluoro chemicals advisory levels.

One sample located in the industrial area tested at 1,245 ppt. That area was isolated, valved off and drained to remove contaminants. Beginning on May 18, the city began flushing the contaminated water at its wastewater treatment reclamation plant and three city parks.

In a May 26 news release, the city announced it had received test results from Anatek Labs that afternoon. Of the 17 samples that were taken from different sources throughout the water system, 11 came back with non-detect levels of contamination. The six test samples that had perfluoro chemicals contamination ranged from 82-857 parts per trillion.

The city of Airway Heights received the results of another round of testing for perfluoro chemicals in its water system on June 2. Four of the 20 samples that were tested were still above the EPA's advisory level - ranging between 85-141 ppt. The remaining 16 samples showed non-detect or levels below advisory levels.

Eventually on June 8, the water was safe to drink again in Airway Heights. It was then announced that the Air Force has agreed to cover the cost to purchase drinking water for the city, which became effective on Nov. 1.

This agreement came after a comprehensive investigation led by the Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC), the group looked into the past use of aqueous film forming foam. Throughout the investigation, they found that the military activities may have contributed to the contamination that affected Airway Heights.

The Air Force and Airway Heights now have an environmental services agreement, and the Air Force is agreeing to pay the city for its cost to purchase up to 439.08 million gallons of drinking water with a potential total cost of more than $687,000 in the next year.

The AFCEC used groundwater, surface water soil and sediment sampling to map the potential migration of pathways to the drinking water in the communities near Fairchild. Where the PFOS and POFA levels exceeded the health advisory level, there is evidence that the Air Force was likely a potential source of the contamination. If needed, the AFCEC immediately provided alternative drinking water sources.

The Air Force and AFCEC is continuing their work with the city and the community to come up with a long-term solution to provide safe drinking water, which could include alternate water supply sources or filtration systems.

Staff reporters Grace Pohl and Al Stover contributed to this story.


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