April 23, 2021

Since the first of April, the City of West Richland experienced a confluence of issues that lead to the 189 calls regarding water concerns from our 5,300 water utility customers. While discolored water due to iron and manganese sediment is a normal part of any well/reservoir system, we identified the factors that caused the uncommon amount of sediment pushed through the system, and we are working now to address them. Outlined below are the steps we are taking to address this for the benefit of our utility customers.

Our city continues to grow rapidly, and we learned that some affected residents were unaware of the assistance we are able to provide when they encounter a water concern. This morning, we shared the appropriate contact information on our Facebook page to begin that messaging, and we will continue to use that platform as well as our website to update residents.

Additionally, our new utility billing system provides a means for sharing messages through the utility bill as well as target messages to specific neighborhoods if we have the correct contact information. In our June billing, we will ask residents to update their email and cell phone numbers, and this will allow us to push messages to them if we anticipate a concern in the future.

In our efforts to provide great customer service to our utility customers, our team members at all levels work diligently to answer customer questions. Since not all of the team members had all of the information, it looked like we were sharing different reasons for the resulting discoloration, and that created confusion for our customers. We’ve already taken steps to update our team, and any customer questions will be funneled to the Water Operations Supervisor or Utility and Facilities Operations Manager. That will ensure that our customers receive all of the information that may affect their service.

System Flush
The City’s water system needs only to pump 800 gallons per minute (GPM) in the winter months to meet water demands. The pumping rate increases to over 6,100 GPM during the spring/summer months to meet peak water demands. The increased flow naturally stirs up the  sediment in the water mains every year. We perform a system flush using the fire hydrants in the spring and fall. The flush – if performed at the correct rate for an appropriate amount of time – scours the pipes and removes the majority of sediment.

A couple of our neighborhoods retain elevated groundwater levels, and we are sensitive to the fact that this flush could impact groundwater levels in those areas. As a result, the flushes we previously performed did not take place at a high enough rate nor for long enough to scour the pipes.

We enlisted the assistance of a consultant this week—JUB Engineers. They will assist city staff in updating the city’s unidirectional flushing (UDF) plan to account for the larger sized water mains within the water system. The plan will provide information on the flow and length of time that we need to perform the system flush at each hydrant to make the process effective. In the future, neighborhood flushes will be accompanied by sandwich boards placed on the side of roadways with information including where to find more information, where to find assistance, and more.

The City of West Richland uses a telemetry system to monitor well and reservoir levels as well as turning on or off the wells as necessary to meet our customers’ current water demands. The goal is for the telemetry system to control the wells so that reservoirs slowly fill during off peak times and slowly discharge water into the system during peak demands.

We recalibrated the telemetry system, and we’re also performing additional training for team members.

Well #11
We planned for our newest well to come online this spring for the last three years. Our contractor began the testing as required in early April. Testing requires that the well is turned on manually. Again, due to the warm spring, Wells #7 & #9 were already pumping water to the reservoir, and turning on Well #11 manually pushed another 1,650 GPM through the water system. This stirred up more sediment.

We completed testing for Well #11 last week, and it is now fully operational. The recalibration of the telemetry system included Well #11.

Water Quality

In April 2021, we published the 2020 Water Quality Report on the City’s website that shares the results from required state testing as discussed by Nathan Ikehara from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) Office of Drinking Water during the City Council meeting on April 20 (see audio archive at 9:34 through this link: https://westrichland.org/council-meeting-audio-recording-archives/). Our water continues to meet or exceed DOH drinking water standards, and the Water Quality Report also provides residents with suggestions for home filters and water softeners.

Our Public Works team is researching and updating information including estimated capital and operating costs for additional water source treatment options for the City’s six groundwater wells. This information will be presented to the City’s Utility Sub-committee and City Council in the coming months for review and discussion. Periodic updates on the City’s efforts will be provided during future City Council meetings.

Since 10am on Tuesday, April 20th, we have only received a couple of calls from customers experiencing discolored water. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to Roscoe Slade, Public Works Director at roscoe@westrichland.org or 509.967.5434 and select option 2 for engineering.


Brent Gerry, Mayor/CEO