The doughnut divide: Weighing water issues

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldOctober 14, 2012 

About 70 percent of the homes in the Franklin County doughnut hole already receive water from the city rather than ground water wells, and if the area is annexed, their water bills would be cheaper.

The remaining 30 percent wouldn't be required to connect to city water if they have a well and the area is annexed. But they could face water rights and water quality issues from their wells.

County residents who get water now pay a $23.75 base fee each month plus a $1.24 use charge per 100 cubic feet of water used. City residents pay a $12.50 base fee and $0.65 per cubic feet of water used.

Incorporation proponent Mark MacFarlan told the Herald that the plan for the new city is to negotiate a franchise agreement with the city to continue getting water, and they believe it's in Pasco's best interest to do that for the money.

"The city of Pasco will want to have a franchise with Riverview," he said. "For us, a franchise agreement will be to give us water at the same rate as everybody else."

If Pasco decides not to sell water to the new city, incorporation proponents said they'll look at drilling community wells for people who don't already have them on their property.

But the new city may run into a wrinkle in the form of water rights.

Janis Gilbert, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Ecology, told the Herald that even if the new city contracts for water, it still will need to have its own water rights.

That will mean finding someone to transfer water rights to Riverview, she said.

"There are some floating around they might get," she said.

Rick Dawson, environmental unit supervisor for the Benton Franklin Health District, said Riverview residents also could run into issues with water quality.

Because of the prevalence of agriculture in Franklin County, some of the ground water has higher levels of nitrates than are allowed by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Dawson said about 30 percent of the wells in the county -- including in the Riverview area -- have those high nitrate levels.

Nitrates, which are present in fertilizer and can seep into ground water, can cause a blood disorder called methemoglobinemia in infants who drink water with high nitrate content.

The disorder causes the body to produce abnormal amounts of methemoglobin, and that in turn inhibits the blood's ability to distribute oxygen to cells. In children, that can result in developmental delays, failure to thrive or seizures, according to the National Institutes of Health.

"The general consensus is we need to be concerned about infants under 6 months (of age), pregnant women and people with certain digestive issues," Dawson said.

Municipal water systems -- such as Pasco's -- treat drinking water for chemicals such as nitrates, but wells on individual properties typically aren't regulated, Dawson said.

And the new city runs the risk that Pasco at some point won't have enough water to spare for people outside its city limits.

"I think any city council would have to look at that and ask, 'Do we want to provide water for growth in our neighboring city?' " asked Pasco Deputy City Manager Stan Strebel.

"If the decision came to being one of whether we're going to provide for our own growth area or a neighboring city, I think the question is easy."

But Pasco isn't in any imminent danger of running out of water, he added.

Online

* Annexation opponents: citizensforlifestylepreservation.org

* Pasco annexation website: tinyurl.com/pascoannex

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