City of Banks halts most new development, citing water shortage

Banks—The city of Banks water system cannot handle any new development.

That’s the message members of the Banks city council, city staff, city consultants, and documents examining the state of the Banks water system all agree on.

As a result, most new development in the city has been temporarily banned under a moratorium enacted by the city council on Tuesday, December 11.

Citing a shortage in its municipal water supply, the Banks city council enacted the moratorium halting most new development in the city for at least six months after a 4 – 1 vote during a city council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Councilor Michael Nelson was the sole dissenting vote, with councilor Mark Gregg not present at the meeting.

After six months, the council will decide to either renew the moratorium for another six months or, if the city has successfully increased the water system’s capacity, lift the moratorium.

This pattern can continue until the city has solved the water shortage.

The city has 60 days from Dec. 11 to produce a plan to address the water shortage and correct it.

The resolution adopted at the Dec. 11 meeting, titled ‘Resolution 2018-19′, states that the city engineer will prepare a correction program and present it to the council for adoption. Robert Peacock, a consultant with Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, serves as the city of Banks engineer and will prepare the report, along with other city staff as needed.

Multiple factors have led to this moratorium, including a sharp rise in population in Banks since 1990, a warming climate in the Pacific Northwest, and a leaking transmission line that the city of Banks general manager Jolynn Becker says should be finished in mid-2020.

According to the document cited by the city in the moratorium resolution, in June, July and August, the city, under current water losses from the leaking transmission line, can serve 696 customers, or in water system jargon, connections.

Currently, there are 693 connections served by the city’s water system, a small portion of which are outside city limits.

A moratorium on new connections outside city limits has been in place for some time, though it wasn’t immediately clear when this was first established.

In 2019, 37 new homes in the Phase 9 section of Arbor Village, currently under construction, are expected to be connected to the city’s water system. These homes are not affected by the water moratorium, as they were approved prior to the moratorium’s adoption.

Under current projections, these homes will exceed the water system’s capacity by 34 connections.

The largest factor in increased water use to date has been Banks’ spike in population in the last 25 years. In the 1990 U.S. Census, the city of Banks had a total population of 563—a modest increase from 1980’s 489.

10 years later, with the addition of the Arbor Village development, the city more than doubled in size to a population of 1,286.

In 2010, the city had climbed to 1,777 people, and 2017 estimates place it at just over 2,000 residents, with more coming as the final phase of the Arbor Village development is completed in the southeast corner of town.

In recent summers, the city has had to enact their water curtailment program —a temporary measure to reduce water usage during a shortage —multiple times in some of the hottest months of the year as wells dropped below a threshold set by the city, strained by hot, dry summers and heavy use by businesses and residents. Most recently, a curtailment was enacted on July 27, 2018.

According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a report compiled by 13 federal agencies and released this year, the coming years won’t be any cooler in the Pacific Northwest.

“The Northwest is projected to continue to warm during all seasons under all future scenarios,” the report said in a chapter dedicated to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

But another, more immediate issue is the leaking water transmission line on Sellers Road.

During a public hearing moments before the city council passed the moratorium on Dec. 11, city attorney Dan Kearns asked city manager Jolynn Becker to explain the scope of the problem on Banks’ water transmission line that ports water down Sellers Road to Banks.

“Maybe you could tell the public what percentage of our water supply is lost through leakage, and about how many gallons per month that is,” Kearns said.

Becker’s answer addressed a quirk of the leakage—it seems that when more water is used, less water leaks from the pipe, and then went on to say that at least 25% of the water’s supply is lost through the pipe every month.

“We are looking at probably anywhere from 25 to 39% each month depending on what type of month it is. And we’re looking at a loss on Sellers Road of over 1 million gallons of water that we’re losing a month,” Becker said.

Under the moratorium, there are four specific exemptions to the ban on new developments:

Any development applications received prior to the adoption of the moratorium are unaffected; this includes Phase 9, and a couple of single-family home applications already submitted on Banks Road, according to Becker.

Up to three developments of apartments, condominiums or multi-family affordable housing units of no less than 25 units and no more than 40 units that follow certain water conservation measures may be allowed during the moratorium, regardless of how long it lasts.

Industrial-use development proposals that plan to use less than 5,000 gallons of water per day will also be allowed, provided they also follow certain water conservation measures.

Finally, development applications that can provide their own water sources outside the city’s municipal water supply will also be allowed, provided they can prove they are of sufficient quality and will meet at least 75% of the projected water usage of the proposed development.

The city of Banks has already taken steps to address the water shortage; in addition to starting the process of fixing the transmission line on Sellers Road, the city council adopted an ordinance effective on January 11, 2018 that, among other things, will regulate when and how residents and businesses may water their lawns and landscaping.

We’ll cover that in a different article.

Banks Mayor Pete Edison closed with his thoughts on what led to the moratorium with this statement.

“We have kind of thought all along that once we replaced this pipeline [on Sellers Road], that we would have enough water to support all this development, but we had a study done that took nine months, that we received in June. And we have some detailed empirical evidence that that is not the fact, that we will not have enough water to support all of the development around town when the pipeline is replaced, and that’s what’s getting us to this point. So, conventional wisdom turned out to not be so conventional.”

There’s more to the story. The Banks Post tried to obtain three documents from the city of Banks and were quoted a price tag of up to $630 for the city to locate and allow us to view them. We’d like to pursue two of these documents, which could cost between $200 and $410. With these documents, a more accurate picture can be seen about the water situation in the city of Banks. Want to learn more? Consider a donation to our public records fund! Excess funds will be used for other public records requests.  Click the buy now button below to make a donation.