Marys River
Marys River (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath and the surrounding area hasn’t seen any measurable rain in quite some time and based on weather forecasts, it appears that the drought will continue into the foreseeable future. The dry conditions combined with low flows seen on the Marys River in the late summer makes one wonder if residents need to be concerned about water availability.

As most folks can probably surmise, the Marys River serves as the primary water source for city residents. In fact, according to the city’s 2020 water quality report, the main river in town accounted for 97% of Philomath’s drinking water.

City Manager Chris Workman said during an interview in late June that flow levels in the Marys River were “on par with where they’ve been in previous years.”

“We’re not seeing extremely low water levels at this point,” Workman said. “We typically see low water flows in the Marys River at the end of August and getting into the first part of September. We’ll continue to use the Marys River as our primary drinking source. We can add to that with the 11th Street well and we can always pull additional water from the intertie with Rock Creek as needed.”

Philomath in recent years has not seen any type of restrictions on water usage — even during those weeks in the late summer when the river runs low.

“We have always encouraged people to conserve water where possible, especially when we get in the hotter parts of the year,” Workman said. “We encourage people to cut back on the extra watering, running the garden hose for the sprinklers and all of that … but no, we haven’t had any mandatory water shortage restrictions that we’ve had to extend out to our residents in a long time — at least the seven years that I’ve been here.”

The city did receive a curtailment notice five or six years ago issued by the Oregon Water Resources Department, Workman said. However, the curtailment notice’s water usage limit was above the capacity of the Philomath water treatment plant, so it had no effect on operations.

Again, pulling numbers from that 2020 water quality report, 3% of the city’s water came through the intertie and 0.4% from the 11th Street well. The city routinely uses water from the Rock Creek intertie when the aged Philomath water plant has to go offline for maintenance.

“Our water operator is very good and very in tune with the plant and its abilities,” Workman said. “When the plant needs to be taken down for a little bit and we need to have the Rock Creek intertie for a while, we do that — I’d say on a fairly regular basis we do that. The 11th Street well gets used on a fairly regular basis as well and it’s all just part of providing good water to our residents.”

Workman said what water source to tap into all comes down to the day and conditions.

“We have the luxury of having three different water sources that we can rely on right now,” Workman said. “A lot of municipalities have just one or maybe a second — we have three water sources right now that we can utilize.”

If the Marys River water levels became so low that Philomath would need to utilize the Rock Creek intertie more than in the past, would the cost become an issue?

“It’s in the budget and it’s not that much more expensive than what it costs to produce our own water either,” Workman said. “So whether we’re running our plant or we’re using the Corvallis intertie, it doesn’t make a big difference in the budget.”

The Rock Creek intertie relationship between Corvallis and Philomath dates back to 1951 with the last renewal occurring in 2017. It could be argued that a partnership between the two cities goes even further back to 1906 when Corvallis first built a pipeline from the Rock Creek Watershed around Marys Peak and through the middle of Philomath to serve residents in both cities.

In the most recent intergovernmental agreement, Corvallis phased in a series of annual base rate increases that Workman said will continue for three more years. The Corvallis charges are not tied to usage.

“Each additional year that we’re connected to it and using it as a source, we’re paying a little bit more of a base fee,” Workman said.

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