After 16 years, the state Department of Ecology has finally given its approval to the city of Walla Walla to store drinking water in an underground aquifer. However, Walla Walla didn’t wait for all the official paperwork to start replenishing the aquifer with treated drinking water. The city has been doing it since it embarked on this pilot plan in 1999.
It’s a good thing the city didn’t wait – and that Ecology didn’t let red tape get in the way of starting the project. Billions and billions of gallons of perfectly good drinking water would have been flushed away, which would have been an incredible waste of a precious natural resource.
“The whole reason we started it is that the basalt aquifer was decaying like it is all over the United States,” said city Utility Engineer Frank Nicholson. “And we stopped that. So it has actually been a pretty good success story.”
It took seven years, until 2006, to apply for the permit and then nine years longer to receive the OK this month from DOE.
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“At that time (in 1999) they didn’t even know that much about it, though it was very common in other states,” Nicholson said. “Washington is very lagging in this area.”
Walla Walla water is treated with few chemicals, only what is required by law. Putting chemically treated water back into the aquifer does raise concerns. For this reason, DOE is requiring two years of monitoring, which will cost the city about $100,000.
Walla Walla is now pumping about a billion gallons of water a year into the aquifer, which is more water than it takes out, Nicholson said. The addition of water occurs mostly in the winter and spring when Mill Creek has high water levels.
This is exactly the kind of forward thinking seasoned with good sense that’s needed to ensure our natural resources are available.
This is excerpted from the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.).