The Falcon Cove Beach Water District board voted Saturday to extend a moratorium for another six months, but it could be the last one.
The vote was the second extension since the board enacted a six-month moratorium last December. They declared the water emergency after reporting water production had been at record low levels for the past several years during late summer months.
The water district’s system operator, Charles Dice, said there has been a supply and demand imbalance for years, citing increased use during the summer months from vacation rentals.
Several property owners, some of whom are scientists, have organized and are arguing the moratorium is without basis. Through public-records requests, they obtained the data the water district used to come to its conclusions and found discrepancies. They have shared their findings with water district and Clatsop County officials.
Prior to public comment at Saturday’s meeting, Dice began by sharing “good news” with the nearly 30 people in attendance, including officials from the county.
“There was an obstruction in the well that was giving us some false information regarding the depth of the water,” Dice said.
He said a 20-gallon per minute pump was replaced with a 50-gallon pump and the obstruction was removed.
He said the water district started testing the new pump and found it should produce 40 gallons per minute “very reliably.” The board has said they would feel comfortable ending the moratorium if they could produce 40 gallons per minute from the well. The water district sent that information to their engineer, Curran-McLeod Inc., for more testing.
“That’s very good news. I mean, what that says is that we do not think we will need another extension to this moratorium, that we will be able to end the moratorium within the next six months,” Dice said. “It’s not a promise or a commitment, but, you know, I’m certainly confident in what information I have seen.”
The moratorium has been a point of contention between property owners over the past year. Some believe the moratorium has been a way to block new development, since property owners need a documented water source before they can obtain a building permit from the county.
“If you tell me when the drought is going to end, I’ll tell you when the moratorium is going to end,” Dice had said at the November board meeting in response to questions from property owners.
Guido Paparoni, a geologist, and his wife, Margaret Rozendaal, a climate scientist, own a lot in Cove Beach. They have spent months analyzing the data and have come to the conclusion that there is no drought or water shortage in the late summer months. David Livermore, a hydrogeologist and longtime homeowner in Cove Beach, came to the same conclusions.
“There was no emergency in 2018. The moratorium is without basis,” Paparoni said during public comment on Saturday.
He said 2018 was a normal precipitation year in Cove Beach, adding that the 30 gallons per minute data points the water district used to declare the moratorium coincide with periods of heavy rainstorms and are measurement errors.
“The district chose to use instantaneous minimum water production rates to call the moratorium,” Paparoni said. “Our findings are that the summer baseline was 150 gallons per minute the year the moratorium was enacted.”
Paparoni added that the actual consumption rates are one-fifth of the rates the water district reported to declare the moratorium.
“The bottom line is we all want ample, clean water,” Livermore said. “Our system is not under some threat where the year-rounders won’t have water if we spend some weekends. That is not true and managing a water system that has two tiers of consumers is not right or feasible.”
Livermore also advocated for tapping the brakes on the development of a second well.
Clatsop County Commissioner Lianne Thompson, who represents South County, said her skills, expertise and information — like some other neighbors — have been shut out by the board.
“We are all accountable as public servants to voters, to ratepayers and just to our neighbors. So I would ask for more humility and openness and welcoming everyone,” Thompson said.
Following the public hearing and the board’s vote to extend the moratorium, Dice addressed Paparoni’s report.
“We disagreed with the conclusions of the report,” Dice said. “We did send it in to our engineering partner, Curran-McLeod, who also agreed it was not appropriate for our particular case.”
However, Dice said there were interesting aspects of the report.