Wednesday, July 28, 2004/lk
MABTON - As the water pressure in Mabton continues to drop, the tempers in the small community are on the rise.
Citizens gathered at Mabton City Hall Tuesday night to urge the Council to cite those citizens not adhering to the recently mandated water conservation efforts.
The city initiated a city-wide water conservation program in early July when citizens began complaining of serious drops in water pressure. Citizens were mailed notices urging them to limit irrigating their lawns and other outside water use to odd/even days. As part of the city's conservation effort, the public water crews began shutting off the city's water supply between the hours of 11:30 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. to allow the wells to refill. City officials issued the conservation alert again in mid- July, again asking residents to restrict their water use in order to give the city an opportunity to provide enough water for drinking and washing. But as citizens reported last night, there are still too many people not paying attention to the conservation need.
While most citizens attending Tuesday night's council meeting were in favor of the city's conservation effort, others were concerned that some residents don't understand the need for curtailing water use.
In addition to airing concerns about the health and safety hazards, the water shortage and shut-off, residents complained that proper notice hasn't been provided to citizens.
"The notice was mailed in English. I think it needed to be mailed out in Spanish," said Albert Vasquez of Fifth Street in North Mabton.
With nearly 80 percent of Mabton's population of Hispanic descent, Vasquez felt most people weren't complying with the conservation effort because they couldn't read the city's notice.
"Some may not have even received it," he added.
They definitely don't understand why there is no water at the tap in the middle of the night, according to Elsie Sanchez, a South Mabton resident.
Sanchez, who lives on Pine Street, said her concerns with the water shortage deal with health and safety issues. "Plus, there is no consistency about when the water is shut off and when it is turned back on," she told the Council.
Sanchez said she had researched how other towns handled water shortages "But none I found resorted to turning the water off after midnight," she said.
"I think this method is endangering people's health and is a fire risk," Sanchez said.
She cited instances when she had found her water turned off as early as 11 p.m. and not turned back on until well after 3:30 a.m. "Not all of us work 8 to 5," Sanchez said.
"What are the hours the water is to be turned off and why weren't we given better notice of the shut-offs?," she asked.
Saying the city had looked hard at what measures to take in view of the city wells depleted water supplies, Mabton Mayor David Conradt said the Council chose the shut-off as a stop gap emergency measure.
"We sent out notices to the residents asking them to voluntarily conserve water during this emergency," said Conradt. "But we can't force people to stop watering their lawns."
Not everyone is observing the odd-even water days, noted Linda Palomarez of Fern Avenue in South Mabton.
Saying her children are now calling her the water police, Palomarez is worried that not everyone in town is taking the current water shortage seriously.
"A lot of people don't understand about the city's recent action to cut off city water after midnight," Palomarez said.
Since July 2, the Mabton city wells have been shut off after 11 p.m. to allowed the wells to replenish, a step the council took in an effort to save the city wells' booster pumps.
The city, which is in the process of seeking state and federal funds to drill a new city well, noticed a dramatic drop in water pressure in late June, when the first hot spell hit the Valley.
Mabton city crews and engineers have tried several methods of elevating and maintaining the water pressure to no avail, explained Conradt.
"Our booster pumps can't work fast enough to replenish the system," he said.
Mabton has seen a drop in the aquifer during the past several years and is in the process of seeking the approval of the Water Conservancy Board of Yakima for permission to drill a new well. Conradt said in the meantime, the Council is seeking funds to build a new well, which is expected to cost more than $1 million dollars.
"The Mabton aquifers continue to drop so we will have to drill a deeper well shaft," he told the citizens. Conradt said even if the city isn't able to get a grant to dig the well, it will be seeking a loan to get the well dug.
"We will have a new well by next spring," he said.
Conradt said Mabton engineers continue to meet with the conservancy board to explain Mabton's need for a new well, which is expected to cost between $1.2 to $1.3 million to drill, and install.
In the meantime, residents can expect to have the water emergency continue as it is until Valley temperatures begin to drop, lessening the demands on the city wells.
Also attending Tuesday's meeting was Yakima County Commissioner Ron Gamache of Toppenish, who commended the Council and the citizens for their patience during the current water crisis. He said he traveled to Mabton to see how desperate the water situation is and to offer the support of the Yakima County Commission when the city's grant request comes before it.