Newport declares water emergency

The filters located in Newport’s water treatment plant, pictured, have become blocked due to iron accumulation over time. The city declared a temporary emergency restricting water use as staff works to remedy the problem. A special city council meeting is scheduled for today (Friday) at 9 a.m. to discuss any necessary action. (Photo by Steve Card)

Stage two restrictions in place

NEWPORTOn Wednesday, the city of Newport declared a temporary emergency, issuing a stage two water curtailment/restriction effective through Friday at 9 a.m., when the Newport City Council will hold an emergency meeting and take any further action deemed necessary.

That emergency declaration was issued by Acting City Manager Peggy Hawker — City Manager Spencer Nebel is furloughed this week.

In an email to the city council and department heads, Public Works Director Tim Gross explained the city’s water treatment plant was having difficulty meeting demand. “The problem at the treatment plant is that the membrane filters are quickly plugging, cutting our production from approximately 2,600 gallons per minute down to 1,600.” 

The problem became evident, Gross explained, when Bayfront fish processors began seasonal operations, increasing demand by approximately 1,000 gallons per minute. 

“Water plant personnel have been working with the manufacturer, Pall Corporation, and have determined the filter plugging is due to an iron accumulation over time, which has finally reached the point where it is now causing production issues,” wrote Gross. 

He said even though they know the cause, getting it corrected is not straight forward.

“We’re trying to get our filter issue resolved, but the fish plant is using up water faster than we can produce it. Hence, the curtailment notification,” Gross said. “We’ve been working with Pacific Seafood to try and regain some elevation in our water system. For us, it’s all about … how much water is in the tank, and that provides for domestic and commercial use, as well as fire protection. We were getting down in our stored volumes to the point where it was getting dangerous.”

Gross said it takes about eight hours to flush a single filter, and the first filter was flushed Wednesday night. “It helped, but it did not restore the filter to where it was,” he said. 

“We think there may be some set points in our process that aren’t quite right. We’re going to continue to clean the filters and see what kinds of results we get. It’s a little early for us to know (when the problem will be resolved).” Gross said the manufacturer has seen similar problems where, over time, the filters became blocked.

“Think of it like your coffee maker when it starts to mineralize. It works great, until all of a sudden it doesn’t. Until the fish plants came online, we didn’t know we had this production issue,” Gross explained.

“Pacific Seafood is running both shrimp and whiting right now. We were able to get them to stop operating at the whiting plant until tonight, which reduced their consumption by about 400 gallons per minute,” Gross said. This helped recover the level of water in the city’s tank. “Ideally, we’ll be able to get our filters flushed and back online and be able to meet capacity tomorrow. But if it doesn’t work the way we think it will — we’ve never done this before — it could be several more days.”

Gross said to meet the water demand, the city is reaching out to the fishing boats specifically, trying to figure out how much fish is already caught. “We don’t want them going out and continuing to fish with the expectation that we’re going to be able to meet that water demand to process that fish,” he said. 

Gross said the city suggests, “Hey, take a day or two off of fishing for us to get this solved, and then hopefully nobody is going to lose a bunch of money. We want to make sure the fishermen are able to process the fish because that’s their livelihood. I’ve got really talented staff who are doing everything we can to provide enough water to meet the demand as best we can. We’re recovering in our tanks right this minute. That’s a good thing. But as soon as that plant starts up again, we’re going to be using more water than we can produce, and we can only do that for so long.

Gross said this is a problem for everybody — the fishing plants just happen to be the biggest users. “This is a process issue. It’s not really a huge expense, it’s a water chemistry issue,” he explained.

Newport is buying water from the Seal Rock Water District to help meet demand. “The city of Toledo, the Seal Rock Water District and Newport are all working together to try and solve this issue,” Gross said.

“I’m not worried about anybody running out of water at this moment. We did reach out to hotels, asking them to delay water needs they can. If you don’t have to wash your car, don’t. If you don’t have to water your lawn, don’t. Those kinds of things make a huge difference,” Gross said. “But wash your hands,” he advised, laughing but not joking.

Gross is confident the situation will be resolved, but he can’t predict when. “Best case scenario, we’re producing (sufficient) water tonight. Worst case scenario, Monday,” he indicated, but qualified he can’t guarantee that. The situation is unusual. “We’re seeing results, just not the results we want.” 

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