Mother Nature appears to have dealt water-starved residents of Pine and Strawberry a pleasant summer surprise.
It arrived in the form of a wet winter that now has wells in the two tiny mountain hamlets producing increased amounts of water.
“They are yielding capacities that haven’t been produced in years,” said Pine Strawberry Water Improvement Board President Bill Haney.
He also attributes the increased supplies to the district’s maintenance personnel for rebuilding and replacing pipes, pumps and other equipment that had fallen into disrepair during the years Brooke Utilities owned the water company.
Haney stopped short of predicting the additional supplies of water would alleviate problems of past years when storage capacities reached near zero and the two towns’ users were put on severe restrictions and water had to be trucked in.
He said there is growing optimism that Pine and Strawberry might be able to make it through the summer without relying on water from two new deep wells that are being considered for purchase or lease by the district.
Those two, Strawberry Hollow and Milk Ranch, will be discussed tomorrow, April 17, at a 1 p.m. board meeting.
Both of those wells are up and pumping, but producing sand — a problem that must be solved before the district can use the water.
Haney says the Milk Ranch Well is “producing very well and is pretty well cleared up.” But due to the location of the well, in an open field directly south of Pine Hardware and adjacent to Pine Creek, a lengthy pipeline must be installed before the water can be pumped into the existing system.
The board is considering an above-ground, temporary pipeline called “RainForRent” which could be used until a permanent system can be built.
For the district to use the water, however, the board must come to a lease or purchase agreement with its owners, Ray Pugel and Robert Randall. Haney said he was uncertain of exactly when, or if, Milk Ranch would be added to the Pine-Strawberry systems.
Within the two towns, there has been criticism of the board’s decision to spend about $55,000 on repairing and appraising the well.
Sam Schwalm of the watchdog group Water For Pine Strawberry wrote on his Web site, “we shouldn’t be paying to repair a broken well before we buy it.”
He also suggests the well is not a practical one, “the only thing proven about the Milk Ranch Well is that you can pump dirty water out of it for a while and then it plugs up.”
He argues, that before the district puts any additional money into the well, the two owners should “refurbish the well and demonstrate viability.”
Haney counters, however, saying any money the district puts into the well will be subtracted from the purchase or lease price when a deal with Pugel and Randall is signed.
Also expected to be on tomorrow’s agenda, although one hadn’t been finalized by press time, is a discussion of the Strawberry Hollow Well that was recently appraised by the engineering firm Tetra Tech. Although it too has sand issues — and a broken pump is apparently lodged at the bottom of the well — it holds a great deal of promise, mostly because of its location near existing pipelines.
“It would be quick to hook it up; less than 100 feet and it could be done in a couple of days,” Haney said.