Spokane and Airway Heights are close to a deal providing clean tap water to affected West Plains residents for a second summer following discovery of well contamination last spring.
A two-year agreement that will provide Airway Heights with up to 2,900 gallons of Spokane water every minute will be considered by the Spokane City Council on Monday. Airway Heights has been using Spokane’s water supply exclusively since June of last year after the U.S. Air Force informed the city the water table had been contaminated with potentially dangerous chemicals used in firefighting materials on Fairchild Air Force Base.
Airway Heights had been buying water under the terms of a deal negotiated in 1984 to provide emergency supplies. That agreement did not limit the amount of water Airway Heights could purchase, nor did it require the city to make efforts to conserve the water they were buying.
The new agreement does both of those things, and could serve as a template for future water agreements with other communities, such as Medical Lake, which have expressed interest in buying Spokane’s water, said City Councilman Breean Beggs.
“In terms of water savings, it’s a big improvement for us,” said Beggs.
The deal would give Airway Heights a new emergency connection to Spokane’s water system at Craig and McFarlane roads on the southwestern edge of town, and provide much needed supplies while the city determines a long-term solution for its water woes, said Kevin Anderson, public works director for the city of Airway Heights.
“It’s going to take us a while to get the situation fixed,” Anderson said. “This is basically just a short term, limited period of time agreement to purchase additional water from the city.”
Airway Heights purchases its water from Spokane at a wholesale rate charged to out-of-city customers. Since November, the Air Force has been footing that bill as part of an agreement negotiated after testing revealed the contamination. The Air Force authorized coverage of water sales of up to 440 million gallons this year. Neither the city of Spokane nor Airway Heights could immediately provide a figure for how much water the city has purchased since the beginning of that agreement, but Spokane officials have said the city routinely buys about 92 million gallons per year for seasonal use.
Of all the water the city of Spokane pumps from the aquifer, more than half is used by private residents living in homes or apartments. About 4 percent is sold to surrounding communities at a wholesale rate, according to a presentation the city’s Water Department gave at a river health forum held in February.
Washington state recently outlawed the use of the chemicals, identified as potentially hazardous by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, by local firefighting agencies beginning in 2020.
The Air Force is helping the city design a temporary filtration system using granular activated carbon that could be installed on one of Airway Height’s largest underground wells, said Anderson.
“It’s something that we could mobilize, connect and use for peak periods, but we aren’t going to build a building around it,” he said.
The system could be online as early as this summer, while the city continues to pursue a longer-term study of its water options, Anderson said. That could include digging new wells, more permanent filters or some other option, but Anderson said Airway Heights is not interested in exclusively relying on Spokane water permanently.
“There’s quite a bit of politics that go on with water rights,” he said. “I don’t think Spokane is interested in that kind of relationship.”
Dan Kegley, director of water and wastewater management for the City of Spokane, said the agreement would amount to the city serving as a good neighbor. But Spokane has its own needs for that water, and the previous contract that lacked limits put the city in a potentially tough place when trying to plan for the future.
“It was open-ended. It impacted on how we could look at planning and capacity on the West Plains,” Kegley said.
The City Council will consider the water deal, which includes options for up to three annual renewals for a total length of five years, on Monday afternoon. Beggs said after the immediate need for Airway Heights is addressed, he plans to bring forward a city law that will govern future water agreements with surrounding cities sometime this spring.
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