Sunday, April 5, 2015

FRIDAY, AUGUST 11, 2006

SMALL TOWN WATER 2

Here’s the way it works. The village has a little town hall that truly is a hall -- a big room with a kitchen and two wings: one for the town clerk’s office and one that used to be for the local law enforcement, a deputy hired through the county sheriff. At noon the hall is used by an entity that provides inexpensive hot meals for senior citizens so that they have a bit of social life as well as good nutrition. A “meals on wheels” person delivers to those who can’t get there. A nurse monitors blood pressure. Valier has a very high proportion of older folks who have moved to town so the next generation can live on the farms and ranches.

The mayor and her trusty councilpersons decide that the hall looks shabby. They pay for refinishing the floor. Then paint the walls. Of course, that calls for new curtains. The old wooden chairs look bad so new chairs are bought. The mayor looks around and says, “You know, this place looks so much better, I think we need to raise the rent. We’ve done a lot for these folks.”

The new higher rent means that the food program has to raise the charge for the meals. Quietly, some senior citizens stop coming. No one on the town council notices. They have gone on to their pet project: improving the campground by plumbing it for water and planting trees. “We want people to drive through our little town and see how nice it is!” exclaims the councilman. The town is approximately five blocks from end-to-end. With gas costing more than three dollars, driving and camping are seriously curtailed. If one asks whether the campground is breaking even, the subject is changed.

When I was working for the City of Portland Bureau of Buildings, the director was a woman. She was tired of having to deal with problems like houses that were sliding over cliffs because of inadequate engineering soil studies. They should know better, she thought. What she wanted to do was find the money to have all the file cabinets in the Bureau powder-coated the same color -- they were such a hodge-podge. In the end she just went ahead and spent the money on all new file cabinets. It was such a lift to morale, she knew, even if the inspectors were out in the field all day.

The main problem for this Valier meeting was (again) water. People are so desperate to have their lawns green and the proper height that they are drawing down the three wells to the point where the pumps are in danger of sucking air, which means that their automatic monitoring and shut-offs won’t work and the pumps will work continuously, eventually burning out. So what were the possible ways to get more water? Tap into our Lake Frances? Sign on with Conrad’s grand scheme to run a pipeline down from Tiber Dam? 

Drill another well? One town had pulled up their pump from a well and removed the screen underneath it, then drilled the well deeper. Unfortunately they broke through into something that sucked all the water OUT of their well instead of water flowing in. There are also aquifers close to town that are notorious for the low quality of their water -- if they were accidentally connected to the town’s present aquifers, there would be more water but of poor quality. Some say undrinkable.

What about conservation? Not practical. Alternating sprinkling days between the two sides of town just makes them compete to try to get more water. Automatic sprinkling systems are “proven” to use less water than a sprinkler (just ask the salesman) and if you restrict people to hand-watering, they will only stand out there with the hose for hours. Anyway, it’s SO important for a person to have good water pressure when taking a shower.

Meters? Oh, everyone would be angry. Everyone is always so angry at us and we’re just doing our best. They simply don’t understand that we want the best for them -- green lawns that tourists will respect. All the other kids (er, towns) look better than we do. 

Oh, by the way, the sewer lining project that’s starting in a few days? We still don’t know whether people have to sign up to put new connections in before or after. And the cost is MUCH higher than was published in the paper, because the cost of copper pipe, you know, has really gone up, and anyway the sewer-lining people are refusing to give us a quote. (The one in the paper was wrong.)

Also, on Sunday there was a break in the major waterline on that same street and the town maintenance men said when they dug it up that it has major corrosion and should be replaced as soon as possible. After all, it’s a hundred years old. In fact, if there’s a fire in town, the maintenance man has to hustle to the pumps and turn an extra one on, or there won’t be enough pressure for the hoses. Then when the fire ends and the hoses are shut off, he has to hustle back out and shut off the extra pump or the antique underground pipes will burst. No one has explained this to any of the people building new houses in town. Or their insurance providers.

But, don’t worry, two of the councilpersons plan to attend a conference in West Yellowstone in a month and they might find some grants. But, warns the mayor, “I don’t want to hear you telling all about the wonderful shopping you did down there -- it’s a great town for jewelry and...” The ladies reached for more cookies from the nearly empty plate.

During the entire meeting, the air conditioning unit ran on high while the door to the room stood open to the outdoors. There was probably no one in the room over forty except me. By the end of the meeting, the local newspaper reporter was listening to her iPod. But she didn’t forget to order a new sharpener for her eyebrow pencil from the mayor, who is an Avon lady.

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