Cheney Free Press -

Managing Editor 

Water, water everywhere - but not always Cheney

City struggles with irrigation supply is a top story of 2018


January 3, 2019

Once again, water — or rather the difficulty in supplying it — was one of the top stories of the year in Cheney.

From October to April, the city has little issue bringing the liquid to the taps of residents in abundance, using just two of its eight wells. Beginning in May, Public Works staff bring on four more wells to handle an increased demand caused by irrigation — and without fail, when really hot weather hit, this demand exceeds the ability to supply, leading to moratoriums on watering brown and dying lawns and equally damaged feelings among its citizens.

This year was no exception, with three shutdowns to replenish reservoir supplies taking place between roughly July 10 and Aug. 10. Unlike previous years, all of the restriction events were a result of stretches of extremely hot weather, rather than a mechanical malfunction of a well.

In the first incident, which began around July 7, reservoir levels dropped to 12.8 feet at their lowest point —26 feet is the norm under good conditions. City officials have said in the past that at least 11 feet of water needs to be in the reservoir system in order to ensure proper firefighting pressure.

Shutting off irrigation water to the parks and Cheney School District facilities, along with citywide irrigation restrictions and easing of temperatures above 90 degrees helped bring levels back up to 18.3 feet by July 16. That lasted less than two weeks as temperatures again climbed, and restrictions were again put in place from July 25-28 and a third time from Aug. 8-10.

An Aug. 16 Cheney Free Press story noted the most recent shutdown came on the heels of a stretch where temperatures soared past 90 degrees 13 of 17 days, and 20 of the past 41 days, including 103 on Aug. 9 and 102 on Aug. 10. Adding to the heat was a wildland fire along Interstate 90 northwest of Cheney that led Department of Natural Resources fire crews to use a hydrant at Cheney Middle School to fill their attack trucks, causing additional draw down of the system.

As with past restriction episodes, easing of hot temperatures and residents’ adherence to the watering prohibitions helped bring reservoir levels back up. But there were grumblings about Cheney’s water supply from a number of corners, including Planning Commission members who voiced frustration to staff at several meetings about the city’s lack of ability to deal with its water issues, which many people attribute to too much growth in multifamily units in the city.

For its part, the city has taken steps to enhance its water supply abilities. Wells 6 and 7 underwent rehabilitation projects earlier in the year that were designed to at least maintain their pumping capacity.

But while Well 7 responded to the rehab work, 710-foot deep Well 6 actually experienced a drop in production, fallling from its original 480 gallons per minute capabilities to around 300.

The city awarded a $724,000 contract to Blue Star Enterprises In July for redrilling of the Well 3, a large producer located along Erie Street that essentially stopped producing in 2012. The total cost for returning the well to service, if sufficient water was hit, is $1.8 million.

In September, the City Council approved a staff request to put together a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for hiring a consultant to help the city deal with its water supply issue. It’s hoped the consultant will be able to provide possible solutions not only for the city’s potable water system, but examine the possibilities for using reclaimed water from the city’s wastewater treatment plant for irrigation.

As for Well 3, Public Works Director Todd Ableman told the council at its Dec. 11 meeting that Blue Star’s drilling efforts had produced a “good gusher” at around the 750-foot depth. Drillers did not hit an expected sand layer, but stayed in solid basalt rock.

“It’s a solid formation, we’re not to worried about cave ins,” Ableman said, alluding to what officials think happened to cause the original well to stop producing.

Crews were expected to do a 72-hour pump test to determine the well’s capacity, which Ableman said preliminary indications were that it would provide plenty of water to assist with irrigation. He added that returning the well to service is a “band aid” for the city’s water issues.

John McCallum can be reached at


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