This West Is OUR West

Tribal call restricts Chiloquin water use

By STEPHEN FLOYD, H&N Staff Reporter

June 13, 2018

The boat launch at Williamson River Park, just outside Chiloquin along the Williamson River. Chiloquin has been ordered to use its city well water only for human consumption following a call on water on the Williamson River by the Klamath Tribes.   - H&N photo by Stephen Floyd

 

As of Monday, residents in Chiloquin cannot use city water for anything other than human consumption following a call on water by the Klamath Tribes.

Due to cancelation of the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement last year, the city’s [sic] well is now included in tribal calls on water, subjecting the city to shutoff notices issued by the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD).

The Tribes, as the senior water right holder in the Klamath Basin, made a call on water March 8 due to low water levels after a particularly dry winter. Severe drought conditions are forecast for this summer and many water users are concerned about the impact of the Tribes’ call.

Not outside the home

Chiloquin was notified Friday by OWRD it was required to cease all use of groundwater, which included the municipal water system. Mayor Mark Cobb requested an increase in the amount of water available for domestic use and the city was granted a six-month exception.

During the exception period, water for cooking, bathing, cleaning dishes and clothes is still allowed, but chores like washing a car, watering a lawn or spraying off a driveway are prohibited.

“Basically everything outside of your home ceases,” said Cobb.

He clarified this shutoff applies only to municipal water and that water acquired from sources not impacted by the Tribes’ call can still be used for non-domestic purposes.

Future solution

Cobb said the city anticipated the shutoff notice and plans are already in place to build a city well far enough from the Williamson River to not be impacted by future calls on water. The city purchased 211 acres of forestland along Highway 97 last November for a new sewer plant, with the secondary goal of building a well on-site.

Cobb said funding has been secured for well construction, including a $2.5 million loan from Business Oregon. He said ideally the well would be completed in the next six months to prevent this type of shut-off in the future.

Self-regulation

Amid such strict water regulations, Cobb said city residents are expected to self-enforce. He said, with few exceptions, residents can be trusted to stick to the rules in this type of situation.

“Our community pretty much works together,” he said.

City Recorder Teresa Foreman said staff such as public works employees will keep an eye out for potential violators and will give reminders to anyone they see improperly using water.

“We’re just going to try to get people to be honest and above board,” she said.

In the lead-up to the restrictions, the city began a public awareness campaign about water conservation. This included a poster contest at local schools asking kids to depict their ideas of conservative water use. Contest entries were judged by city officials and winners are displayed in City Hall.

Tribal help

Though the Tribes were the impetus behind the water shutoff, Tribal Council Member David Ochoa said they want to support the water needs of the Chiloquin community. Ochoa spoke on his own behalf Monday during the City Council’s regular meeting and said, if a dire need for water should arise, the Tribes could help with access to water from outside the regulated area.

Ochoa said they have a water tank not impacted by the call that could be used for programs such as Chiloquin’s community garden. He said he was unsure why the city did not approach the Tribal Council beforehand, seeking such support.

“I think it was a failure of the system that no one came and asked the Tribes for help, even though we provide help,” he said. “We’re one community, not separate …. When we’re protecting the water, we’re protecting it for everybody.”

Cobb said he would contact the Tribal Council to be placed on their next meeting agenda to discuss the water issue in Chiloquin.