Airway Heights has agreed to stop using a well that has deprived residents outside the city of water they’re entitled to pump.
An “agreed order” with the state Department of Ecology gives the city until mid-2013 to phase out its Parkwest well near the intersection of Craig Road and state Route 902.
However, City Manager Albert Tripp said the city will drill a new well to replace the Parkwest well next spring.
“It’s currently in process right now in terms of finishing up the site acquisition,” Tripp said.
He said the new well, near the intersection of Lawson Street and 21st Avenue, will cost about $1.3 million, but no water rate increase will be needed.
Tripp said he is confident the new well will produce as much or more than the Parkwest well because the city has two other wells near the drilling site.
The Parkwest well draws from a “confined aquifer” that is like a swimming pool, recharged only by water that trickles down from above. Tripp said the in-city wells draw from a different aquifer that is fed by free-flowing groundwater.
Keith Stoffel, the Department of Ecology’s regional water resources manager, said Airway Heights has to stop using the Parkwest well because other water users had “senior” rights to the dwindling water supply.
The city has had the well about 16 years, but its pumping permit for 1,400 gallons a minute has been temporary for eight years.
The Parkwest well has the most junior water right on the West Plains, but Stoffel said the Department of Ecology may have to regulate other wells in the area to protect senior rights. Spokeswoman Jani Gilbert said Parkwest is the first municipal well the department has had to shut down in Eastern Washington.
Medical Lake and the Four Lakes community also draw water from the aquifer tapped by the Parkwest well, and the water table has dropped 10 feet a year for several years, according to Stoffel. Some wells have gone dry, and property owners have had to drill deeper.
Tripp said Airway Heights has helped property owners with the drilling but officials want a better long-term solution. Now, he said, they are considering using their new $45 million sewage treatment plant, scheduled to open Dec. 15, to recharge the groundwater near the Parkwest well.
“We’ll essentially be filling the bowl,” Tripp said. “It’s important to note that reclaimed water is treated to the same standards as drinking water.”
The treated water would be “just as safe as drinking water,” and it would receive additional purification as it filters through the ground “in much the same way that rainwater does,” Tripp said.
“It’s something that’s cutting edge,” he said. “It has definitely caught on in Arizona and Southern California and places like that.”
The city’s agreement with Ecology allows it to use the Parkwest well for emergencies. Airway Heights also has an agreement to purchase water from Spokane as needed, but Tripp said city officials try to avoid that.