By Jeremy Schwartz and Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Earlier this year, National Park Service staff determined that the backup intake at the water plant, which is 2.8 miles from the river's mouth, needs new sediment-filtering fish screens, and two of six screens have been replaced by National Park Service contractor Macnak Construction.
Work halted in April, however, after river sediment unexpectedly began flowing into the Elwha Water Treatment Plant — which was built to filter sediment from water before it is treated for the Port Angeles water supply — and reached components not designed to ever handle the material.
Park Service engineers also have determined the pump station's pipes will not be able to handle the amount of sediment in the river, Olympic National Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said.
So additional repairs are needed for the pumping station that pulls Elwha River water from the water plant's backup intake into the plant itself, she said.
The water-treatment plant is part of the National Park Service's $325 million restoration of the Elwha River, begun in September 2011.
The project includes the removal of two antiquated dams that blocked fish passage and stopped sediment transport on the 45-mile-long river a century ago.
An estimated 6 million cubic yards of sediment — of about 34 million cubic yards trapped by the dams — have flowed down the river as result of the removal of Elwha Dam, completed last March, and the demolition of Glines Canyon Dam, which has been stopped since October.
The initial hiatus was a “fish window” to protect fish migration. That was first extended in January because of sediment problems at the plant, and the latest date for resumption of work was set for July 1.
“It's likely that will change,” Maynes said Friday.
“If dam removal is deferred until after July, then the earliest it can start after that is not until mid-September.”
This is because dam-removal contractor Barnard Construction would have to abide by another fish window set to start Aug. 1 and end Sept. 15.
“We're still looking at the project being completed within the contract period, which takes us through September 2014, but a timeline within that hasn't been set,” Maynes said.
Designs for fixes for the pump station and its pipes are in preliminary phases, Maynes said, adding that she could not provide an estimate on cost or how long installing them might take.
The Elwha Water Treatment Plant was designed to filter water inundated with sediment to a certain degree and pass it along for use by four downstream users: Nippon Paper Industries USA, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife fish-rearing channel built along the river, the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe's fish hatchery and the Port Angeles Water Treatment Plant, which provides drinking water for the city.
Since fall, however, the plant has not been able to provide enough filtered water to these users.
The city has had to pull more water from its primary water source, called the Ranney well, than expected.
Officials are concerned that ultimately could shorten the life of the decades-old facility.
The Ranney well, however, is continuing to do its job of supplying enough water for city residents and businesses, said Glenn Cutler, Port Angeles public works director, on Friday.
Sediment has been seen inundating the shoreline of the river tributary that leads to the Ranney well.
The city's concerns over use of the Ranney Well and the need for additional fixes to the treatment plant were discussed at a Thursday meeting between city and Park Service staff — which included U.S. Department of the Interior Office of the Solicitor attorney-advisers William Back and Kelly Powell.
City Manager Dan McKeen said Friday the meeting established lines of communication between city staff and the Park Service over how Park Service staff are addressing the problems at the Elwha Water Treatment Plant, which with its surface water intake is collectively referred to as the Elwha Water Facilities.
“We felt it was a very beneficial meeting,” McKeen said, adding that more meetings are expected.
Cutler said city engineering staff shared data on the Ranney well's operation with national park engineers.
The city will provide input to the park as the problems with the Elwha Water Treatment Plant are corrected, he said.
Other city staff members attending were attorney Bill Bloor, City Engineer Mike Puntenney and water superintendent Ernie Klimek.
Park Service staff in attendance were Maynes, Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum, Elwha River Restoration project manager Brian Winter and the National Park Service's Denver Service Center Elwha project manager, Karl von Rosenberg.
“There was a very good discussion [at the meeting], and a lot of cooperation was displayed,” Creachbaum said later.
Powell and Back were among the Solicitor's Office attorneys who signed an April 17 emailed memo titled “Communication Containing Work Product in Anticipation of Litigation” that was sent to 16 Park Service employees, including von Rosenberg, Winter, Maynes and Creachbaum.
According to a copy of the email obtained by the Peninsula Daily News, Interior officials are preparing for possible legal action over alleged design flaws at the Elwha treatment plant that have caused “significant damage and delay.”
The Solicitor's Office, the Interior's legal branch, said its staff is “investigating the design deficiency issue of [Elwha Water Facilities] and anticipates legal action may result.”
Sediment and woody debris have not been removed from the water facilities and surface water intake “as designed,” it said.
San Francisco-based URS Corp., the engineering, construction and technical services company that designed the Elwha Water Facilities, “has denied responsibility for the problems that are occurring at EWF,” the memo said.
URS Corp. spokeswoman Pam Blum said Friday the company had no comment on potential legal action involving the water facilities.
Solicitor's Office attorney-adviser Stephanie Lynch would not comment last week on the memo.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at email@example.com.