After months of debate, Dunes City Council voted unanimously on Jan. 17 to issue South Coast Water District a permit to use water from Woahink Lake.
At issue are 85 homes in the city that currently receive water from Siltcoos Lake, though the water quality traditionally has been poor. To help alleviate water quality issues, South Coast Water District has been working with the city to have the residents receive water from Woahink Lake as well, which is where the majority of Dunes City residents receive their water.
However, some residents have been concerned about the transfer of rights, fearing the extra water usage would put the water levels of Woahink at risk.
Dunes City initially planned to vote on the issue last month, but councilors wanted to hear expert opinions before making a final decision.
In Wednesday’s meeting, the council heard testimony from Regional Water Master Susan Douthit, along with South Coast Water District owner Randall Reitz, who currently filters the Siltcoos Lake water for residents.
The permit caps the city’s use of water at 1.4 cubic feet per second (cfs) from Woahink Lake. Currently, residents receiving water from Woahink are using only .11 cfs of water, while the residents by Siltcoos are using only .078 cfs of water from Siltcoos Lake.
When asked if the the addition of the Siltcoos residents would reach the 1.4 cfs limit, Douthit said it “wouldn’t come close.”
However, when asked if there was “plenty of water” in Woahink Lake to sustain the extra residents, Douthit stopped short of saying that there will always be water.
“Right now, it’s looking great,” she said. “A right to water doesn’t guarantee that it’s going to be there. ... But what I can speak to is that .078 is not a lot of water.”
Environmental changes outside the scope of resident use could affect the levels in Woahink. An example of this would be Siltcoos Lake itself. While Siltcoos’ water levels traditionally have been moderate in comparison to Woahink, the level is particularly low this season.
The lake was recently drained to help remove the silts from the river and prevent flooding, a process that is done periodically. But this year, the drain has run into problems.
“After the flush, we haven’t had much rain,” Douthit said. “That is unexpected. I’m anticipating a better year next year, I hope. Dam operation is not easy. Especially when you haven’t done it for years and years.”
Councilor Duke Wells pointed out that there had been maintenance issues with the dam this year as well.
Because of the issues facing Siltcoos Lake, Reitz explained that the immediacy of switching to Woahink water had heightened.
“At our last meeting, you asked me if we were at an emergency or critical point (with Siltcoos water),” Reitz said. “At time, the answer was ‘no.’ It is now a definite ‘yes.’”
When the lake is flushed, the water intake is about two feet under water.
“And when they do that it sucks all the sand and the silt and the nasty algae out,” Reitz explained. “Since then, we have been fighting almost daily. About every 24 to 48 hours we have to have somebody come over (from Eugene) to do a pass on the treatment plant to keep that thing running. With the lake level back up, we were hoping that would change, but it hasn’t. It’s absolutely plugged up.”
Poor water quality has been an issue beyond the recent winter, Dunes City and Siltcoos Heights resident Ian Jarman said.
“My house was built in 1968 and a lot of other houses were built in that time too,” he said. “What it represents is affordable housing for families. We have children in the neighborhood.
“If any of you have been fishing on Siltcoos Lake, you know you can see more than a couple feet down and see the green gunk down there. ... I always keep one eye open on that water quality.”
Jarman went on to explain that he spends $70 to $100 per month for subscription water service just to be on the safe side.
“I’m not sure all my neighbors can afford that, or choose to afford that,” he said. “When we heard that we could get water from Woahink for me and my family, my heart lifted. Sorry to homeowners on Woahink, I certainly don’t hope we’re threatening your own water rights. But as citizens of Dunes City, and I hope I’m speaking for all of our neighbors, we appreciate the opportunity to get some good clean water to sleep well at night and know that our children are not being exposed to unnecessary toxins.”
Douthit was asked if the state was planning on doing a study on the long-term effects of switching Siltcoos residents to Woahink. She explained that the Oregon Water Resource Department’s monetary resources were tight.
“We’re having trouble getting studies done in places like Klamath. I wouldn’t anticipate the department being able to help out any time soon,” she said.
Dunes City could instigate its own study, but it would take time. And time, according to Reitz, was a luxury the Siltcoos residents did not have, a sentiment Wells agreed with.
“No matter where we’re getting it, those residents are entitled to the same water I have,” he said. “I was ready to vote on this two months ago. Some folks haven’t lived here as long as I have and they needed some education. I think that’s been afforded. And I know the water quality from Siltcoos Lake to Woahink is like night and day. And I know that every citizen in Dunes City has the right to good clean water for their families.”
In other news from the meeting, Wells made a statement regarding a recent circumstance of harassment in the city.
“An event happened over the holiday season in Dunes City that I’m not happy with,” he said. “I’m going to say this as nice as I can. Somebody took ... what I’ll call a vigilante act. I know who it is. They went to another resident’s home and threatened this person, saying that they were being evicted. (The victim) was an 83-year-old widow living on a piece of property in a trailer home.”
He said the action “had to do both with the water issue and the marijuana issue” Dunes City has been addressing in the past year.
“This woman was victimized by another Dunes City resident and that isn’t going to happen anymore,” Wells said firmly. “I’m hoping (the victim) will take some sort of legal action against that person because we can’t have this happen here. It shouldn’t happen anywhere, let alone Dunes City.”
The Siuslaw News is currently unable to publicly verify details on the incident at this time.