By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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City Council members voted 6-0 to authorize City Manager Dan McKeen to sign the agreement at a special Tuesday council meeting. Councilwoman Brooke Nelson was absent and excused.
“We’re just worried about the security of the city’s water supply overall,” McKeen said.
The problems at the Elwha Water Treatment Plant and Elwha Surface Water Intake, collectively called the Elwha Water Facilities, have forced the city to rely more heavily on its Ranney well than expected during times of high sediment load in the Elwha River.
River silt increased after the demolition of two dams on the Elwha.
The increased use of the Ranney well, the city’s drinking water source, has raised concerns among city officials about the well’s long-term health and the safety of the city’s water supply.
The problems have not affected the quality of water reaching Port Angeles.
But they have prevented the Elwha Water Facilities from providing the city the quantity of water initially agreed upon before the dam-removal process began.
Olympic National Park representatives have said the Elwha Water Facilities problems stem from sediment that was released by the Elwha River dam removals finding its way into water facility components where it was never meant to be.
Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said one of the Park Service’s priorities is to ensure the safety of the Port Angeles drinking water supply.
“I know the Park Service is really happy to be moving forward and working collaboratively [with the city],” Creachbaum said.
One of the goals of the agreement is to allow the park to remove a notch of the once-210-foot Glines Canyon Dam — which since has been knocked down to 60 feet — and restart dam deconstruction, work anticipated to occur in October, Creachbaum said.
The 108-foot Elwha Dam was removed in March 2012.
Glines removal will have been on hold for a year if it restarts next month after problems with the Elwha Water Facilities were first identified last fall.
City Engineer Mike Puntenney said park staff have told him the notching will force the Elwha to cut through sediment vertically rather than cutting horizontally and continuing to spread along its course.
This would allow the flow of sediment to be better controlled, Puntenney added.
“The small notch won’t produce that much sediment,” he said.
Mayor Cherie Kidd asked whether the park will communicate with the city about potential effects of sediment flowing down the river once the notch is cut.
“In the beginning, they were not communicating with us, and we must be on top of the effects,” Kidd said.
Puntenney said he is confident communication between the city and Park Service will continue in a positive direction.
“This is something that needs a great deal of scrutiny on a very regular basis,” Puntenney said.
Under the agreement terms, the park will pay for the initial $56,000 contract with Mission Woods, Kan.-based Layne Christensen Co. to evaluate how Elwha River sediment might be impacting the city’s Ranney well and its water pump system.
McKeen said this evaluation is underway.
The park also has agreed to remove sediment accumulated at the mouth of the river channel that leads to the Ranney well, according to the agreement.
The final version of the agreement came together hours before the Tuesday meeting was held and was the result of nearly a week straight of discussion among park staff, city public works staff, City Attorney Bill Bloor and McKeen, according to the city manager.
Bloor said discussions between the park and the city had gone on for weeks prior to the final presentation of the agreement, which has gone through at least 20 iterations.
“I think we’re moving absolutely in the right direction,” Deputy Mayor Brad Collins said at the Tuesday meeting.
“I think the agreement is what we can best hope for.”
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at email@example.com.