Eatonville’s filtration plant, built in 2006, with one of the town’s three water towers visible on a ridge in the background.
Eatonville’s filtration plant, built in 2006, with one of the town’s three water towers visible on a ridge in the background.

At peak usage on a hot summer’s day, residents and businesses in the town of Eatonville can use up to 700,000 gallons of water in a single 24-hour period. Eighty-five percent of that water passes through a concrete storage tower that was built back when Harry Truman was still president and a postage stamp cost 3 cents.

This is a situation that Mayor Mike Schaub has admitted causes him sleepless nights.

In addition to its aging primary water tower, the town’s filtration plant, which draws water from the nearby Mashel River, both directly and through a series of shallow wells, operates with only two filters instead of the three it was designed to hold. Each filter costs $575,000.

“We’re really aware that we need to put money back into our infrastructure,” said Abby Gribi, Eatonville’s town administrator, when asked about the town’s plans for its water system. “It’s just pricing and priority. We don’t, by any means, have funds to redo everything that needs to be redone,” she added.

Eatonville is not alone in its troubles.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that statewide, “approximately $11.73 billion [must be spent] over the next 20 years to keep up with the growing demand and aging transmission, distribution, treatment, storage, source and other related infrastructure,” according to its website.

Its current letter grade ranking for drinking water infrastructure in Washington is a C- with a C meaning “mediocre, requires attention.” The score is based on multiple factors including capacity, condition, funding and future need, among others.

Doing her part to help improve this score locally, Gribi has begun the process of seeking state funding of approximately $1.4 million to install a third filter as well as to convert the plant’s decommissioned sand filter to a clear well, which would add an additional 120,000 gallons of holding capacity to the overall system.

“The biggest thing is redundancy,” she said.

Meanwhile, initial steps are being taken to address the aging concrete tank. These include commissioning an engineering study on the cost-effectiveness of rerouting the water through one of the town’s other two, more modern steel water towers, versus demolishing and rebuilding the old tank and replacing it with a newer one having nearly double the current capacity. Both possibilities have their own challenges, including limited room for expansion due to the smallness of the parcel the current tank sits on, and the need to install pressure-reducing valves if the water were routed to a tank at a higher elevation.

In addition to the issues with the tank and filtration plant, poor historical records of the location, size and type of the town’s existing water supply lines make planning difficult. Staff is currently in the process of updating Geographic Information System (GIS) maps town-wide to get a better handle on the situation.

“Asset management hasn’t been actively pursued (previously),” Gribi said. “It’s definitely time with aging infrastructure.”

Money for improvements to utility infrastructure comes primarily from the ratepayers, and the town council must approve any utility rate increases.  According to Gribi, previous councils had been hesitant to raise rates, making it difficult to perform needed upgrades.

“With rates stagnant for years, there have not been capital funds available,” she said.

She added that the current council “takes infrastructure seriously,” and is proactive in its efforts to begin addressing long overdue maintenance and repairs. For now, the system continues to perform as required.

“It’s in no way failing,” Gribi said. “It’s just time to start looking at the future plan going forward and make sure we’re growing appropriately.”

She’s planning to attend a statewide conference in October where a tech team will be established to figure out grants or other funding mechanisms for how best to proceed.

“We’re definitely trying to make improvements around town and make it a place where people want to raise families,” she remarked.

Interested members of the public are encouraged to attend Public Utilities Committee meetings to ask questions, offer advice or voice their concerns. The next meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19 at the Eatonville Visitor Information Center, located at 132 Mashell Ave. N.