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Water shortage presents deep dilemma.

Byline: JOE MOSLEY The Register-Guard

JUNCTION CITY - Larry Brown and perhaps a dozen and a half of his neighbors share a troubling dilemma: city water all around, and nary a drop to drink.

They depend instead on a private water system that branches in undersized lines from a shared well originally intended to serve only a few households. Brown has been the water system's unwilling owner since he bought his home 10 years ago, struggling to keep the water flowing during each summer's dry period and losing an average of $400 per month in the process.

"Imagine running 20 houses off of 15 gallons per minute," Brown says, referring to the well's capacity. "This last summer was the driest on record, and the well is only 30 feet deep. We were out of water quite a few times."

Brown tried for more than a year to persuade the state Public Utility Commission to allow him to close down the water system for his unincorporated Vista Dale subdivision, which is surrounded by neighborhoods already annexed into the city, but the matter kept being delayed.

Then last fall, he stopped testing the water as required under federal clean-water regulations - the testing costs ranging as high as $1,500 - and the state Health Division stepped in to ask for action from the PUC.

The PUC's order came through two months ago - Brown's Vista Dale water system must be closed by Sept. 30, 2003.

"I've been fighting this a long time, and nobody wanted to listen," he says. "When the health department got involved, things started happening."

Brown intends to cap off the distribution lines and use the wellhead to serve only his home after the shutdown is completed.

But that still leaves his neighbor/customers under the gun to choose between three disagreeable alternatives:

Drill individual wells, which in most cases probably wouldn't be allowable because of the proximity of several septic tank drainfields.

Build a new, high-production well and water distribution system, which could cost as much as $12,000 per household.

Seek annexation to the city, which initial estimates put at close to $40,000 per home.

Annexation would require homeowners to pay not only for new municipal water lines, but also for sewer extensions and improvements to bring streets, curbs and sidewalks up to city standards.

Last Tuesday, the Junction City street, sewer and water committee recommended to the City Council that a "zone of benefit" be created before annexing the homeowners in Vista Dale and other neighborhoods on the west end of 10th Avenue.

The zone of benefit would divide the cost of the line among all the owners of properties that may eventually be served by it, with the charges collected at time of connection.

The council received the recommendation but continued its discussion of the matter to its April 16 meeting, when it will consider both the zone of benefit proposal and other potential options for solving the problem.

"The city has listened, and we've made some adjustments," City Administrator Roberta "Bert" McClintock says. "We want to be fair, and this just sort of came together."

McClintock says the city has no intention of forcing Vista Dale homeowners to annex their property into the city - a concern that has dampened enthusiasm for both private wells and a new community system for the Vista Dale households.

Larry Buckles, for instance, owns three lots in the subdivision - which can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on which water option he pursues.

It makes a well of his own a plausible solution because he probably could avoid pollution from nearby septic tank drainfields. However, the alternative means his assessment for any annexation charges may be as much as three times as high as those of his single-lot neighbors.

"I do have a lot of ground so I could put in a well," Buckles says. "But I'd hate to spend all that money and have (annexation) go ahead anyway. I'm still just waiting to see what the city's going to do."
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Title Annotation:Junction City: A neighborhood struggles to decide how to fix its water problem without prohibitive expense.; Government
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 18, 2002
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