Council Eases Water Restrictions for Food Gardens

The Vernonia City Council voted to ease water curtailment restrictions by removing language that included vegetable and fruit gardens from an established Ordinance.  

Council adopted Ordinance 907 at their August 17 meeting, which amends Section 4 of  Ordinance 796, and prohibits the nonessential use of water.  Ordinance 796, signed in 2003, sets in place water curtailment provisions and declares a water shortage emergency of drought water levels in Rock Creek. The newly adopted language removes wording that placed restrictions on “gardens, vegetables”  and adds the language “Direct hand watering of food producing plants (herbs, fruit, and vegetables) shall be permitted,” during Third Level of Concern in a water shortage situation.

Vernonia Water Curtailment Measures include four Levels of Concern based on flow levels of Rock Creek where the City water system intake is located,  and establishes progressively more strict water use reduction steps.

The City is currently in the Third Level of Concern based on flows in Rock Creek decreasing to 10 cubic feet per second (cfs).

Ordinance 907 retains the original ordinance language that restricts watering of shrubbery, trees lawns, grass, ground covers, plants, vines, flowers or other vegetation.

Any citizen who does not comply with water restrictions can have their service disconnected by the City after one warning and be subject to fees to reconnect the service.

At their August 17 meeting, Council additionally entertained a request for the Vernonia School District Superintendent Aaron Miller, asking that the School District be exempt from water conservation measures so they can water the football field.  Miller told the Council, in both writing and in person that the primary concern is for the safety of student athletes when the ground is too hard from lack of watering.  Miller told Council the District has Water Rights and takes their water for the field directly from Rock Creek below the City intake and, not from the City water system.  Council took no action to grant an exception based on the District having their own Water Rights.  Vernonia’s Voice was unable to verify the District’s Water Rights.

According to Ordinance 796 the purpose and intent is to conserve the water supply for the greatest public benefit, which is defined as domestic use, sanitation, fire protection and aquatic life.

Nonessential uses of water are defined as the washing of any vehicle except at a commercial washing facility, washing of any hard surfaced area or building or structure, the filling or adding of water to any indoor or outdoor pool or jacuzzi, and the use of water fountains except to support fish life.

Water Curtailment Measures for the City of Vernonia were originally defined in 2002 as part of Resolution 24-02 which remains in effect as well.

The First Level of Concern, which takes effect when water flow on Rock Creek reaches 14 cfs calls for a voluntary reduction of water use by all water users.  The Second Level of Concern becomes effective when flows reach 12 cfs and limits times and types of outdoor watering allowed.  At 10 cfs the Third Level of Concern is enacted and prohibits all outside uses of water, which is the level the City is at currently and which Council amended to allow hand watering of food producing plants.

The Fourth Level of Concern goes into effect when the State of Oregon declares a state of drought emergency that applies to Columbia County or when flow on Rock Creek decreases to 8 cfs.  At that time mandatory reduction of water usage would be required, with the City setting a maximum daily allotment of water use allowed per resident per day.  If a residence uses more than their allotted number of gallons per day, residents  could have water service disconnected or be fined.

During a Declared Water Shortage Emergency the City is not to allow to approve, or allow to be installed, any new or expanded water service connections.

According to City staff, flows on Rock Creek have remained steady at 10 cfs since water restrictions were first put in place on August 5.