Where Does Our Drinking Water Come From?

21 03 2018

by Joe Hyer

When I was a teenager, I lived on the shores of Summit Lake in west River in Pacific Northwest forestThurston County.  Every summer, I had to swim out a few hundred feet into the lake, following the white pipe, then dive down a few times and make sure the screens weren’t clogged with algae or other debris.  Our drinking water came straight from the lake.  And about six feet beneath the surface, the water turns very cold.  The lake is fed by underground springs.  Water on the surface warms in the sun, but the water below is cold- and pure.  Years earlier, they had me dive down looking for cold spots, to know where the springs were, to place the line just above.

And for six weeks last spring, no one could drink that water.  So today we ask each of you the question- do you know where your drinking water comes from?  

If you live in Olympia – there’s a map for that!  If the resolution below is not high enough – you can find the map at www.olympiawa.gov.  It not only tells you that the water comes from underground wellfileds – but it will tell you WHICH wells based on where you live.  Example – I get 100% pure McAllister Wellfield water at my house.  If I want to sample water from Allison Springs – I need to go eat dinner at the Cooper Point Public House (good food, and Allison Springs Water!).

Now, how about if you live in Lacey?  It took just a few seconds longer to call up their water system plan, and learn that municipal water is pulled from underground wells throughout the City.  The water comes from 3 separate aquifers.  They do not name specific wells.

Tumwater draws its water in the same way, from a series of wells located over 3 wellhead protection areas – Palermo, Bush and Port.  The Palermo Wellfield is the City’s main source of water, with Bush used to supplement much of the year, and other wells during peak season only.

If you live in one of the urban growth areas, you are often on municipal water supply, extended from within the City.  You might still be on a private well, however, all depends on when it was built.

Lacey’s website asked a really good question next.  We now know where it comes from – where does it go?  Well, 2.2% is used by the City for municipal purposes.  92% went out to the ratepayers as a fee for service.  The remaining 5.8%, or 156 million gallons?  It leaked.  It’s referred to as DSL, Distribution System Leakage.  It happens in all water systems as they age.  The State requirement is to stay below 10% DSL.  So how does Lacey compare?

Olympia does have a much, much older system – but according to its data – 9.7%, or 227 million gallons was lost to leaks, theft, and system breaks.

We could not find information about DSL on the City of Tumwater website.  Our request to the City for information on leakage and DSL was promptly answered by City Staff, and they are right in the middle of the three cities at 7.8%.  They noted they are in the midst of revising the water use efficiency goals, to better measure if that’s a good or bad amount of leakage.

Of note- much of this water leaks from pipes, underground.  Where it infiltrates, and re-charges the aquifer.  From which we draw our drinking water.  So it’s not really lost at all.  It’s just that each of us pays for a slice of that water in our rates, so they naturally want to conserve.

Water is one of the biggest challenges facing us in South Sound – quantity, quality and a lot more.  We’ll be covering this and more topics in depth as the year progresses.