FERNDALE - The will is there. But still unknown late last week were the options the city has for fixing its hard-water problem, and how much it would cost.
City Council will hear a report Monday, March 4, from engineers hired in December 2012 to come up with water-softening options.
"We don't know what the consultant's recommendation is going to be. We don't know what it's going to cost. We're all hoping it's not an unreasonable cost," said council member Mel Hansen. "The mayor and most on the council have agreed to do something to get that water acceptable to our citizens."
Council member Cathy Watson said a fix for the hard-water problem is a high priority.
"If we can do something for a reasonable price, we should do it," she said.
Report details weren't available as of Friday afternoon, March 1, said city Administrator Greg Young. A rough estimate by a different engineer put the cost of a water softener in the treatment plant at $1.2 million to $1.4 million.
The city converted in December 2011 from Nooksack River water supplied by the Public Utility District of Whatcom County to its own well water. Afterward, the response from water customers was swift and almost entirely critical. Residents, businesses and schools complained of a poor taste or a degree of hardness that stained and damaged glassware and appliances.
Ferndale's water in 2012 measured high on the hardness scale, at 154 parts per million of calcium carbonate. RH2 Engineering, which guided the city through the conversion to well water, measured hardness at less than 120 ppm from 2007 to 2010.
Wilson Engineering, the consultant putting together the report for Monday, was asked to come up with systems that could bring the hardness down to 70 ppm, about what it was before the switch to well water.
Some council members argued that 2012 might have been an unusual year for water hardness, and the city should take more measurements before seeking a solution.
The mayor, who hears the brunt of the complaints, has been urging council members to fix the problem. He'll encourage them Monday to tell the Public Works Department which softening option to pursue.
Council member Jon Mutchler said he's optimistic the city can afford softer water. The city received a $200,000 refund from the PUD for leaving the utility after investing in some of its improvements. Also, a new accounting requirement will return about $100,000 from administrative funds to the city's water fund, Mutchler said.
"We've had record housing starts in January," he said. "All those customers are paying water hookup fees. They'll pay monthly water/sewer bills. I have a sense in my own thinking on this that we're going to be able to have the resources."
"We're going to try real hard not to raise rates to fix this," he said.
The study session Monday starts at 5 p.m. at Community Resource Center, 5694 Second Ave.
Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at email@example.com or call 715-2298.