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Quincy plan to reduce water use may involve revised rates

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | June 11, 2024 1:30 AM

QUINCY — Quincy city officials will look at ways to reduce water use and clean and reuse water, while pursuing additional water sources. Water program manager Bob Davis told the Quincy City Council that the city is approaching the limits of its existing water permits. Davis presented an update to the council June 4.

The city has a permitted limit of 2.81 billion gallons per year. And the latest data for 2023 showed the city was using almost all of it.  

“We’re really, really close, guys, to our limit,” Davis said.

City officials recently completed an update to the city’s water plan, and based on that Davis estimated the city has between 400 and 800 water connections left before it would have to implement a moratorium. 

The city also has to find ways to reduce nitrates in the five existing wells used for drinkable water (called potable water). Federal regulations have a limit of 10 milligrams per liter of water.

“If we have nitrates over the limit, that well will be shut off,” Davis said.

The amount of nitrates in Quincy water is below the limit but has increased since 1995. Well 3 has approached the limit in the last two to three years, according to a city analysis.

Davis said conservation would be an important part of any plan to address the city’s water issues, not just to reduce water use but also to help Quincy qualify for funding to help pay for some of the needed upgrades.

Davis recommended the city revise water rates to help reduce water consumption. He said city officials are working on some proposals.

City Administrator Pat Haley said industrial users account for 67% of current water use, with non-industrial customers using about 33%. Residential use accounts for part of the 33%, but that also includes businesses and organizations like the Quincy School District, Haley said.

Most of the water used by industries is used in food processing, Davis said. City officials are working with one processing facility to reduce water use, he said, and plan to start talking to others. 

The Microsoft data center has a facility to clean and reuse water. Davis estimated Microsoft saved about 230 million gallons of potable water in 2023 using that system. 

Davis said the other data centers haven’t expressed an interest in similar facilities. Some data centers have their own wells, and some use the city’s domestic system. Davis said the goal is to reduce the use of domestic water by industry in general, whether it’s data centers or food processors, and eliminate domestic water use in industry where that’s possible.

Revised water rates would be part of any conservation plan, he said. Even though industry uses more water, any revised fees would have to include industries, commercial and residential rate classes.

“Industrial has a big component of that (water use), but we also have to have some kind of conservation program that’s established and trying to make a difference,” Davis said.

City officials also are working on alternative sources of water, since the aquifer is being depleted faster than it can recharge, Davis said. Officials are looking at ways to find and buy additional water rights. There’s also the potential to treat and use water from the irrigation system of the Columbia Basin Project, he said. 

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.