(Update: Utility official tells KWSO fire, outage 'wasn't as devastating as I thought; water donation drop-off locations))
'It's totally down': Portable toilets, showers set up; water, gift card donations sought
WARM SPRINGS, Ore. (KTVZ) – Two water reservoirs on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation are running out of water and delivery of drinking water to homes in those areas has begun, officials said Sunday, two days after an electrical fire knocked the reservation’s water treatment plant offline in the latest water woes to hit the area.
Emergency Manager Dan Martinez said power crews would be on site Monday to begin assessing repairs and replacements needed due to Friday’s underground electrical fire and to talk about replacing the transformer. A goal is to have a timeframe for how long the repairs will take and when the plant will be operational again.
Chico Holliday, general manager of the tribes' Branch of Public Utilities, told KWSO that Pacific Power will be on site Monday to remove a burned transformer and install a new one being transported from Klamath Falls.
Having talked to an electrician Friday evening, "he feels pretty confident that we could get this thing up and running," Holliday told KWSO. "So it wasn't as devastating as I thought, because of the smoke and all that. That thing was arcing off for almost an hour before PP&L was able to get it shut off."
Officials said the Wolfe Point and Sunnyside water reservoir tanks were running out of water Sunday, and home delivery of drinking water has begun. The tribes’ utilities issued a water conservation notice on Friday.
Emergency managers, working with CTWS Public Utilities, had portable toilets on site and drinking water available at the reservation’s former elementary school.
Longtime issues with the reservation's aging water system worsened Friday when an emergency water conservation notice was issued after am underground fire damaged and shut down the tribes’ water treatment plant.
“Please limit water use to essential needs only,” the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Facebook posting stated.
“Due to unforeseen damage from a small fire at the water treatment plant, all users in the Agency Area, Upper Dry Creek, Sunnyside, Wolfe Point and Kah-Nee-Ta Hamlets should limit water use to essential needs until further notice,” it said.
“Repairs are expected to take at least a couple months,” the initial, brief advisory concluded.
Martinez said an underground electrical fire “caused a complete shutdown of the water plant.”
“It’s totally down, out of operation,” Martinez said Saturday, busy with other tribal officials who were bringing in showers and toilets, just the latest chapter in years of issues with the reservation’s aging water system that have led to previous outages, broken pipes and contamination that prompted several lengthy boil-water notices in various areas.
The large federal infrastructure bill passed late last year includes large sums to address such serious water issues on the nation’s reservations, but such projects can take months to plan -- and years to complete.
In the meantime…
“It’s driving me nuts,” Martinez said. “It just doesn’t seem to quit. Just when I think I can enjoy a weekend...”
However, he added, “I was a little more optimistic this (Saturday) morning. I heard from the power company, they could bypass certain areas to gain access to one of the pumps.”
Still, “it could be a week, a month, two months,” he said, adding that they intend to stay “at least 20 to 30 days ahead,” in terms of water supplies.
Once again, the reservation is renting showers and toilets and is seeking water donations, also accepting gift cards from places like Safeway and Fred Meyer, where they can buy more water, Martinez said.
Those interested in donating to the water distribution effort were asked to call (541) 647-9001. The facility is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 1116 Wasco Street in Warm Springs.
Several organizations are helping gather water and gift cards for water to assist the residents, including the Helpers.
You can drop off one-gallon, multi-gallon jugs or Safewa gift cards for water at the following locations. You can also send Venmo payments to @helpers-nonprofit-1
Bend - 2198 NE Shepard Road (porch drop-off is preferred)
Redmond - 939 NW Fir (front porch drop-off is preferred)
Madras - Madras Garden Depot, 165 N. Highway 26 (Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is among federal and state agencies working to support the tribe in its response to the emergency, along with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management and the federal Indian Health Service, EPA Region 10 Public Affairs Specialist Suzanne Skadowski said.