Vader city officials could be forced to impose a moratorium on new sewer hookups as the municipality struggles to upgrade and improve a sewer system that has reached and breached capacity for some time now.
“It’s an option we must consider,” Mayor Ken Smith said. “Obviously it’s not a desirable option, but we have to be realists and cognizant of the ecological ramifications of our situation.”
The city would get about five to seven new hookups a year, according to the mayor, before problems with the system arose.
The state Department of Ecology issued an amended administrative order to the city earlier this month suggesting to community leaders that they stop allowing new sewer hookups to an old sewage system that was near the point of failure.
“There’s a pipe that runs over the ground, and the pipe is broken in several places along the line and water is running down the hill into (Olequa Creek),” said Greg Zentner, supervising engineer for the Department of Ecology. “And not only have they exceeded what the plant can handle, they’re getting enough flow where they’re not able to treat the water that well.”
Zentner said the city’s sewer system doesn’t pose a daily risk to the creek. It’s periodic and usually occurs during the winter time with increased rainfall, but it has become a significant issue nonetheless. On a scale of one to five, Zentner gave the severity of the situation a three.
He added that the state department has been understanding of the city’s other plights that have placed them in their current predicament.
Vader is still trying to recover financially from having to repay all of its creditors, and the city was recently forced to turn its oft-problematic water system over to Lewis County to operate.
The amended administrative order was meant to give the city an open-ended time table to upgrade its sewer system, but told the city to come up with temporary solutions in the meantime.
Limiting the number of new hookups could be a possible remedy, Zentner said. The two sides will schedule a meeting in the coming weeks to determine the city’s course of action.
Mayor Smith said the council has yet to come up with any ideas as they just received the administrative order at the last city council meeting.
“The council is still in the process of assimilating the ramifications of it,” Smith said, and the issue will be discussed at the next city council meeting. “It’s too early to tell (what will happen), but we are working very closely with the Department of Ecology to very expeditiously resolve the problem.”
The city has hoped that a regional water and sewer plan that would connect the utilities for Toledo, Winlock and Vader would come together, but that is still years away. And even though the city has fought hard to return to financial sustainability, it would be impossible for it to upgrade its sewer system without assistance.
“We’ve turned a corner economically in our community, but it doesn’t mean we’re awash in funding,” Smith said. “We have to monitor and pinch every dollar. We’re not sitting on a pile of money.”
Marqise Allen: (360) 807-8237