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Shady Cove residents thirsty for information about new water system

More than 120 Shady Cove residents crammed in along the walls, truck bays and stairwells of the Jackson County Fire District 4 station along Highway 62 on Thursday night with the same questions.

Where was a rumored new water supply, and how soon could they tap into it?

With the closest thing to a municipal supply just within their grasp after decades of unreliable wells and antiquated private systems, residents wanted to know how soon and for how much they could connect their own homes. Shady Cove is the largest city in the state without a municipal water supply.

Hiland Water, a Newberg-based company with holdings around the city and enough water rights to provide for a few hundred more households, hosted an informational meeting to discuss the logistics of extending water service to residents in need.

Shady Cove City Administrator Aaron Prunty said city officials are supportive of a reliable water supply for residents, but a municipal system has been defeated by voters more than a handful of times.

Silas Olson, business manager for Hiland Water, outlined potential costs on Thursday and answered questions about timelines and system capacity.

Olson told attendees at the meeting that water “isn’t going to be cheap” but would be reliable. Having recently purchased Shady Cove Water Works, a large private system, in addition to a handful of smaller systems, the company owns enough infrastructure to provide water to most areas of town.

Olson estimated his company could safely add “another couple hundred” homes to the system before expansion would be necessary.

Areas where houses are closer together, he noted, would be more cost effective, with neighbors sharing costs to connect to existing lines.

Rough estimates, he noted, should cost about $10 per inch of pipe diameter and for each lineal foot. An average size line, eight inches in diameter, would cost $40,000 to be extended 500 feet.

“Obviously one neighbor doesn’t want to be the only one footing that bill,” said Olson. “But if a lot of homes need water and they can share the expense, it’s more affordable.”

Early in Thursday’s meeting, when Olson asked how many in attendance relied on wells that were known to go dry during warm summer months or which had already dried out and required water to be hauled or delivered, dozens raised their hands.

Clay and Marianne Wolf, who built their home on the northern end of town nearly a decade ago, began hauling water five years ago after two existing wells ran dry.

More recently, the couple spent $12,000 on a two-gallon-per-minute well and continue to haul water to meet the basic needs for their family of five.

“When you’re talking about well water, ideal is 19 to 20 gallons per minute. We get two gallons. After five years of hauling water, a reliable water supply would be a dream,” said Clay Wolf.

“We know it’s probably going to cost a little bit, but where we’re at with this situation is most of the homes around us have no well water, so they haul the water they use. I’m definitely encouraged we could have something that even resembles a city water system.”

Daron Prara, whose home is connected to one of the small systems but who faces water-quality issues and dwindling supply during warmer months, said he was hopeful he could connect to the system operated by Hiland.

Prara was part of a water task force that worked to campaign for voter approval of the most recent ballot measure to fund a municipal water supply. Prara said he has ample water most of the time, but the quality varies.

“After heavy rains you can really smell the sulfur. It’s just not real consistent. We had three wells at one point, but one of them had too much arsenic, so now we’re running 70 hookups off of just two, so we did actually run dry at one point and had to start trucking in water,” Prara said, noting that his existing water system limits homeowners to watering a 10-by-30-foot area of lawn.

“Our hope is to get enough people on the system to get it down to 50 bucks and be able to have enough water we can actually water our yards and not feel like we’re going to run out of water.”

Aside from basic water needs, the Wolfs and several others in attendance voiced concerns about fire safety, property values and insurance rates related to lack of adequate water.

“We haul water, so we keep the tanks full, and I have a fire hose now. I can shoot water eight feet into the trees for a very short amount of time until we run out,” he said.

“When there’s a lightning storm, we’re on the lookout for any fires. It definitely affects how you live when you have to worry about not having enough water.”

Olson encouraged residents with questions related to water service to contact his company. Additional water lines are being added as requested.

For more info about Hiland Water, see www.hilandwater.com or call 855-554-8333

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com