Othello tests well, water system

by Charles H. Featherstone
Staff Writer | June 23, 2020 10:01 PM

OTHELLO — Recent tests on a system to store water in the aquifer underneath Othello have proven successful, according to engineers overseeing the project.

“You have a very solid storage vessel underground,” said Andrew Austreng, a hydrogeologist with Aspect Consulting, which has offices across Washington and Oregon. “We put a lot of water in it, and it didn’t go away. It is not a leaking system.”

Othello has been testing the ability to potentially buy Columbia River water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, pump that water out of one of the two canals that go through the city as part of the Columbia Basin Project, and store that water in basalt deep underground.

The city pumps nearly all of its water from a series of wells drilled deep into the basalt. However, water levels have been steadily declining over the last 70 years, and the city is looking for ways to secure more water.

“Othello relies entirely on Wanapum Basalt wells, and draws have been exceeding the recharge rate,” said Tim Flynn, president and principal hydrogeologist with Aspect Consulting. “Water levels have declined more than 250 feet in some wells since 1960.”

Austreng and Flynn spoke to the Othello City Council during an online meeting Monday evening.

Austreng said Aspect used Well 3R — the newly drilled well in the city’s Lions Park — to pump roughly 600 gallons per minute of water into the aquifer for 39 days from December 2019 to February 2020. The water was then allowed to sit for three months before being pumped out in May.

“We put almost 100 acre-feet of water in there,” he said.

From monitors in a nearby city well, water levels rose nearly 30 feet higher than normal during the recharge period and held at around nine feet higher than normal for at least a month, Austreng said.

The next step involves drawing water from a canal, treating it and pumping it down into the aquifer for six months, Austreng said. That test is expected to begin in May 2021, will use a well north of town near the intersection of Lee Road and 14th Avenue, and will let the water sit in the ground over the winter to see how the process works.

Flynn said much of the work is being paid for by grants from the Department of Ecology and the State Department of Commerce, which are trying to encourage cities — especially those in arid Eastern Washington — to find alternative supplies of water.

In addition, the city has been awarded roughly $250,000 in federal grants as part of the massive COVID-19 relief package Congress passed in April. According to Mayor Shawn Logan, a portion of the grant can be used to recoup the costs of “unbudgeted items” purchased in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as grants to small businesses in Othello.

Logan said the grant — which will reimburse for city expenses — can also be used to cover the additional costs the city incurred with having to go to online meetings.

“It will really help,” he said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.