Water slowly returning to some Upriver residents

Courtesy photo

Boil water notice still in effect

Jan. 3, 2023 — The day after Christmas was a difficult one for folks upriver after most of the customers on the Mapleton Water District’s (MWD) lines woke up without running water.

Christmas brought heavy rains to the area. The source of the MWD’s water is Berkshire Creek on Highway 36. The creek feeds into the district’s treatment plant. In times of excessive precipitation, the limits of the system are stretched because the plant must not only make enough water for the needs of those on the district’s lines but also keep up with any water loss as the result of leaks within the district’s underground lines.

By press time on Jan. 2, most residents’ water had returned. However, a boil water notice remains in effect (meaning customers are to boil water for one full minute before consuming) and customers are still being asked to conserve water use as much as possible.

For more than two years MWD has dealt with outages, starting after the Sweet Creek Wildfires in late summer 2020. Firefighters used loads of water from the plant to fight the blaze, which consumed nearly 400 acres and the plant hasn’t worked as it should since.

Excessive precipitation like the region received around Christmas results in excessive turbidity. Additional sediment and organic material are washed through and from the creek into the temporary treatment system.

“The recent storm, due to the amount of precipitation and high winds, have made it nearly impossible to keep pace with consumption and system loss and, at the same time, maintain the necessary low-level of turbidity to avoid damage and maintenance issues for both district infrastructure and customer plumbing and appliances,” said Joe Rochon, who is the MWD Plant Operator.

According to Rochon, “The district’s near-term goal is to establish and maintain reliable water service for our customers for daily normal use.”

There are three elements to this, according to Rochon. One is locating and repairing the cause of systemic water loss. The second is consistent water production, with the third being customer conservation.

“For the past several months, our water plant has required constant on-site monitoring,” Rochon said. “The temporary system makes necessary the constant changing of filters, sometimes on an hourly basis. A new treatment plant has been purchased by the district via grants and is currently set for delivery in March.”

Rochon said the new plant will have an approximately 50 percent greater production capacity to the existing temporary plant working at full capacity. The new treatment plant has been purchased and is scheduled for delivery in March 2023. However, until then it is essential that customers conserve water. Until the tanks are full at the plant it is also essential that customers boil water they plan to consume.

“We have to get enough water pressure throughout all the pipes — even the pipe we are diverting water from [leak area], and then collect samples, deliver them and wait for results before we can get off the boil notice,” said MWD Board Member Vanessa West.

Those that don’t have water or need to supplement their supply have options.

Until this situation passes, bottled water will be delivered to Mapleton Food Share, 10718 Highway 126, and can be picked up there by customers in need.

There are also two non-potable (not drinkable) filling stations for residents in need. In Mapleton at the Mapleton High School parking lot, 10868 E. Mapleton Road, and in Florence at Florence Municipal Airport, just north of the airport office, 2001 Airport Road.

Users are asked to bring your own containers.

Mapleton School District has also been affected by this outage. Students were scheduled to return after holiday break on Jan. 3, but classes were cancelled that day to allow staff to prepare for a week with water issues.

“Due to boil alert and lower/variable pressure, we are still moving forward with backup plans for toilets, handwashing, drinking water, cleaning and fire watch,” said Mapleton Superintendent Sue Wilson. “Porta-potties and handwashing stations will be installed tomorrow [Monday] afternoon and drinking water delivered during the day tomorrow and Tuesday.”

School will resume for kindergarten through 12th grade today [Jan. 4].

Mapleton preschool was canceled for the entire week.

“Porta-potties and handwashing stations add a layer of challenge that we are not yet ready to support for this age group,” explained Wilson. “We will use the week for planning, communication and preparation for an amazing week back beginning Jan 9th.”

To compound the situation for MWD, sometime last week someone broke into the district’s office in the Mapleton Lion’s Club and stole the hard drive from MWD’s computer.

“The computer did not have any private information for customers,” said West in a Facebook post. “The thief might be able to access names, addresses and phone numbers. All of that information is public knowledge. Besides a few cell phone numbers that might not be listed anywhere, I don’t believe the thief would be able to access any information. It seems the hard drive was not taken out easily, more so ripped out, so it is probably damaged and unusable. We do not have any credit card information or anything of that sort.”

West said because of the theft there will be a slight delay in getting bills out this month but expects them to be out “by late next week.”

Though the situation has been difficult for everyone, as expected it has brought out the best in the upriver community.

“This week alone I heard so many generous community members offering up their skills or a way they could help,” said Millie Rochon, MWD Board Vice-chair. “Some people picked up chainsaws, some brought food, some delivered water. We found a future board member that knows so much and wants to help so badly. I want everyone to understand that they have the right to be frustrated. But also, this mess is worse than untangling inherited Christmas lights to decorate Shore Acres.”

The MWD Board of Directors meets at the Mapleton Lion’s Club, 88148 Riverview Ave., on the second Tuesday of each month. The public is encouraged to attend. The next meeting will be on Jan. 10 at 7 p.m.

West provides frequent updates on this situation and any district business on her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/vanessa.west.98499). For updates from Mapleton School District go to www.mapleton.k12.or.us/.