Sept. 16, 2020 — For nearly two months, Mapleton area residents have been advised to boil all water obtained from city sources for drinking and cooking, impacting residents on a daily basis regarding how they cook, drink water and shower.
Frankie Tipton, a resident of Mapleton, said she and her family have not had access to potable water for weeks. According to Tipton, the only notification her family received regarding the situation was a brief phone call from Mapleton Water District (MWD) at the beginning of August which simply said, “Don’t drink the water. Boil it before using.”
“That was all the information we were given. There was no explanation of the problem. And we still don’t have drinkable water, after six weeks. We have had no response at all from the district manager and no response from the water district,” Tipton said. “We have left several phone calls with no return calls. Our community has many small children, older people and some with compromised immune systems.
“I just want to know, when will we be able to drink water again?”
Residents have reported little communication or guidance from MWD since August.
The growing concern and frustration over the lack of clean water for Mapleton residents was addressed this past Monday by the MWD Board of Directors in an open letter posted online from the district to the Mapleton community.
“In an attempt to become more transparent keeping our residents more informed, the MWD Board of Directors felt we needed to update our community as to the status of our water situation,” the letter read. “First and foremost, we want you to know we are working diligently to provide you with safe (potable) drinking water. Secondly, the ultimate goal is to make the new system as efficient as possible to alleviate future issues and to provide the public with clean, healthy, good-tasting drinking water.”
The letter went on to explain the numerous reasons for the problem, which the board said initially stemmed from two major power outages that caused the district’s plant filter to fail.
It was that failure that prompted the original August “Boil Notice” from the water district.
After multiple attempts to reach MWD Superintendent Terry Saubert in the past month, Siuslaw News was able to speak with him by phone Tuesday, during which he explained that the district’s biggest challenge in finding a solution has been in acquiring a temporary water storage tank — also known as a water skid — that could be used to filter water from Berkshire Creek.
“For the size we need, we are in a tough spot because they make larger ones and smaller ones — but the size we need isn’t as easy to find,” said Saubert.
He added that the wildfire activity throughout the state has also made finding water skids like the kind the district needs even more difficult.
According to Saubert, engineers were on the site Tuesday, and the hope is to receive a tank from Utah sometime in the next few weeks. Once it arrives, it will take a week or two before it is ready to go.
“I’m hopeful that we can get off of the boiled water notice in a month,” said Saubert, who pointed out that testing has shown no bacteria in the samples sent to the state. “But the requirements have changed over the years, and now the state requires that we have to protect against the potential for bacteria as well — which is why we have a boil notice in effect.
“There is more bacteria in the lakes people are swimming in than in the water we are requiring people to boil.”
At the most recent MWD Board Meeting, held on Sept. 8, the board made the decision to acquire the portable water skid in order to provide more water for residents. The board also explained that a grant proposal has been approved by the state which will allow for a major upgrade at the plant.
“The grant is finally approved (half is a grant and half is a loan). However, the wheels at the state level grind slowly. The group that approved the grant does not formally meet until Oct. 2,” the board said in its letter. “Once they meet and formally approve the grant, they will draw up a contract, have it reviewed, send it to MWD for review and signing. At that point, the state will fund the grant and the loan. This could take six weeks. MWD hopes to have the money by Nov. 1, 2020.”
One of the reasons also cited in the letter that caused a major problem to the system was damage done by the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) during the recent Sweet Creek fire, alleging that ODF personnel improperly shutdown hydrants used for fire suppression efforts at the blaze, causing damage to the pipes.
“The year 2020 has hit Mapleton with multiple adversities. These are challenging times for all, and we want to assure you that everything in our power is being done to remedy the situation the district is experiencing,” the board said in its community letter. “To help us communicate better with you, please ensure that your account contact information is current.”
The board also informed the community that the MWD office will remain closed until further notice. The office can be reached by phone at 541-268-4348 on Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.