Several homes in a west Bend neighborhood are not getting water due to breakdowns in a private utility system.
Sun Country Water serves 110 homes in the Saddleback neighborhood near Shevlin Park. The company’s inability to fix the water system is drawing the attention of regulators.
The system that delivers water is 52 years old. It pulls water from two wells, one of which has been out of service for two years. That puts undue pressure on the one remaining well and is resulting in leaks, overflows and loss of service to several homes.
One hydrant on the Sun Country Water system has been leaking for four weeks. The leak is contributing to loss of water to several homes on the upper end of the gravity-fed system.
“I hear about my neighbors who are out of water nearly every morning or daily. I, fortunately, haven’t had my taps go out yet, but I’m concerned. It’s only a matter of time,” said Joe McMahon, a Sun Country Water Customer.
Sun Country Water recently told customers it needed to double its rates to fund repairs. The Oregon Public Utility Commission informed the company it needed to submit a rate case for review before it can increase fees, but the company never did.
“Staff is giving this top priority and has been in discussion with other operators in the area to see if there is a potential appointee that could be put in place to operate the company, if necessary,” said Nolan Moser, an Oregon Public Utilities Commission administrative law judge.
Emergency responders are aware of the loss of pressure in the Sun Country Water system. They haul extra water in water tenders when responding to fires in the area.
“Because it’s a small system, it’s not pressurized. It just uses gravity,” said Dan Derlacki, Bend Fire Department Assistant Fire Marshal. “Us pulling water out of that system could do damage, so we make sure the water is there for the residents. We can use our water tenders to bring the water we need to effectively fight fires.”
The owner of the water company did not answer or respond to Central Oregon Daily’s requests for comment. His voicemail box is full and not accepting messages.
In the meantime, water company customers are left guessing about when service will be restored and whether they should boil or filter the water that does come out of the tap.
“We have been talking to homeowners about using bottled water for drinking and consumption and recommending resources,” said Jeff Freund, an environmental health specialist with Deschutes County.
In this situation, Freund said the water company operator is not mandated by rule to issue a boil water public notice to customers since these are loss of pressure events, not confirmed contamination events.
“As a result, I have been disseminating water safety recommendations in the form of public notice templates and FAQs to affected homeowners. Similarly, the water provider typically offers an alternate source of water such as bottled water in the interim, but not a requirement.”