Lincoln City sewer and water rates rising four percent – and working up a plan to inspect septic tanks around Devil’s Lake
Saying that Lincoln City has ongoing needs to upgrade the delivery of sewer and water service within the city limits, city councilors approved yet another round of water and sewer rates effective July 1st. To not raise rates, it was reasoned, would cause residents and businesses to be caught down the road with huge needs requiring huge rate increases – as it occurring in Newport. A proposed 15% per year increase for the next four years in Newport has been met with collective gasps by Newport City Councilors, along with residents and the business community there.
The Lincoln City City Council wants to avoid that. City Manager David Hawker said that Lincoln City owns only so much water. He predicted that over the next twenty years, even with substantial conservation efforts, Lincoln City will have to live with the water it has while still accommodating a reasonable rate of growth. He said that there is always the option of buying more water rights but that the cost of buying that water and then bringing it to Lincoln City would run upwards of $50 million dollars – and Lincoln City can’t afford that.
City Councilors Gary Ellingson and Wes Ryan said that the hotel and motel industry has done a very good job of conserving water with low flow showers heads, low water toilets and so on. Both expressed concern that higher rates will hurt profit margins. Ellingson also stuck up for Vacation Rental Dwellings saying that it’s not fair that so many of them are largely empty except for four months of the year yet they’re hit with a summertime “peak use” surcharge. City Manager David Hawker replied that everyone pays a peak season surcharge, including VRD’s because producing summer time quantities of water for lawns, gardens and swimming pools is expensive. Hawker also reported that what used to be a 30 million gallon per month community-wide water leak problem has been chopped by two-thirds and they’re working hard to get it down as close to zero as possible. The council approved a 4% increase in water and sewer rates effective July 1st.
Still struggling with Devils Lake Septic problem
The city council, with the cooperation of the Devils Lake Water Improvement District, have taken the first steps toward a near shoreline septic tank water inspection program for all Devils Lake neighborhoods. Adding the east side of the lake to the west side inspection program will require the cooperation of the Lincoln County Commission which has jurisdiction on the east shore. Commissioners have said in the past something must be done to stop septic pollution into Devils Lake. The ultimate fix, obviously, is to hook up all septic tank users on both sides of the lake to the Lincoln City sewer system.
The city council Monday night said that a methodic procedure that involves mainly near shoreline homes on both sides of the lake would be a reasonable start, the city running inspections on the west shore, the county commission on the east.
Mayor Dick Anderson said that rather than lumping all residents into one boat, the program should address the worst offending septic takes first. He said it’s common knowledge that some septic tanks have been in the ground for so long their owners don’t really know where they are. Coupling that observation with the rule of thumb for septic tanks being largely worn out in 25 to 30 years, it’s clear that many septic tanks around Devils Lake are simply passing raw sewage straight into the ground water which eventually reaches the lake.
City Councilors decided that a slow deliberate approach would be best. So they ordered city staff to produce a city ordinance that sets up a septic tank inspection program aimed at near shore homes. The council will be meeting shortly with Lincoln County Commissioners and will request that a similar program be launched on the east shore.
City Manager David Hawker remarked that it would take upwards of five years to inspect the “high profile” septic tanks around the lake. Hawker reminded the council that Oregon state law makes it a crime to knowingly pollute any waterway in the state, which obviously includes Devils Lake. Devils Lake is known for its large algae blooms that are believed the result of untreated sewage seeping into the lake. And with the recent emergence of tourist-drawing water sports, it’s obviously imperative that Devils Lake water quality be enhanced and protected – not only for out of town visitors, but for those who live around the lake and other locals who jet ski, swim and sail on it.
City Manager David Hawker told the council that he and his staff will craft a proposed city ordinance to launch the new septic tank inspection program. He said all new city ordinances come complete with plenty of opportunity for public comment.