Throughout my life, I have held numerous jobs that somehow relate to liquid products.
I delivered milk to homes as a boy. As a young adult I sold and delivered beer, wine and soft drinks. I purchased a plumbing company. I briefly owned a portion of a bottled water and water treatment franchise. Now, as mayor of Ferndale, I work for 11,800 citizens who receive city services, including safe drinking water.
With all those experiences, the goal was a satisfied customer. Unfortunately our city water customers haven't had such satisfaction in the last few months. For that we sincerely apologize.
Five years ago, city leaders began to study our water supply and switch to using already-owned city wells. At that time, Ferndale purchased Nooksack River water from Whatcom County Public Utility District No. 1.
We have always been concerned with rising costs to produce safe water. From increases in piping materials, chemicals and the raw supply, we predicted a doubling of the water rates in four years. Our duty as elected officials is to always look for alternatives.
Raising rates on customers is a sure way to gain attention. We might argue now that the problems being experienced with our new water supply received even more attention.
The cost increases we experienced affected all of our customers, from the fixed-income senior citizen to commercial or industrial customers who depend on stable prices to provide jobs and services to our fellow citizens, friends and neighbors.
With the city's wells, we were approaching regulation deadlines described as "use it or lose it." The legal right to use a well could be considered a very valuable asset now and in the future.
Under state regulations, we were required to conduct rigorous tests of the well water supply, including blind taste tests using the river water, bottled water, nearby cities' water and finally our own well water.
We spoke with surrounding residents on Douglas, Imhof and Ferndale roads who have been using the water from the same aquifer for more than 100 years.
We found our well water source contained less bacteria, meaning the city could significantly reduce the amount of disinfectants used to treat the water. This was important from a health and cost standpoint.
The city hired a well-respected engineering firm to assist us in testing over a three-year period, which included a state-required pilot test for both sources.
All of this research did not indicate the water problems our community is experiencing.
By analyzing all the tests and budget information, we decided it would be smart to invest in a $5 million conversion to city well water, and offset rising prices of river water and the chemicals and supplies needed to clean it. This would also increase stability of water bills. Costs would still rise, but not at double-digit rates.
Upon switching to our renewed city well water system in December 2011, we experienced dramatically increased water hardness levels.
Water hardness can be experienced with spotting on dishes from calcium carbonate deposits. Some described a "thick" or "slippery" feeling to the water. Some citizens like the new mineral-enriched taste, while others do not. None of these conditions are harmful to us and our water passes every water quality standard.
That does not discount the community's concerns. Here's how we're working on it:
We began and will continue extensive flushing of the city's water supply lines.
We are testing and monitoring water hardness levels, as it changes seasonally.
We are experimenting with the blend of our two different wells to reduce hardness.
We continue to study potential options for installing water softening equipment. This is a major move and requires adequate study. We need improvement, not unforeseen mistakes.
Some suggest the community absorb the costs of the conversion project and purchase river water again. Others think doubling of water rates is acceptable. Some would not agree with a rate increase and hope we can find funds elsewhere.
Through all this, our city goal has not changed: Quality water at a reasonable cost to all users. A solution must be found for today and the future. We pledge to continue to talk with you while we work on solutions.
Gary Jensen was first elected Ferndale mayor in 2007 and is serving his second term in office. He can be reached at 360-685-2350 or email@example.com.