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The Olympian, June 28, 1998

Beloved artesian wells on decline

Many Friends: A group works to save the last artesian well accessible to the community.

By John Dodge, The Olympian

OLYMPIA Water I flowing freely from artesian wells is a rich part of the past and present of downtown Olympia.

The question is, will it be part of its future?

Today, the community's only access to the wells is a nondescript pipe that juts out of the Diamond Parking Inc. lot on Fourth Avenue. But that might not last for long.

Swayed by public devotion to the well, the company has tolerated it for years. But Diamond Parking is making it clear it is not enamored with a permanent water park in the middle of its lot.

"This is not the optimal site for a downtown public well," Diamond Parking manager Dan Preisler says.

A spirited nonprofit group known as Friends of Artesians has worked to preserve and enhance the well site.

They recall the day when downtown Olympia was home to 100 or more artesian wells and point out that such institutions as the Olympia Brewery and the Spar Cafe still rely on artesian water, which flows under the natural pressure created by the area's geology.

"To me the well is a symbolic, spiritual metaphor of the community," Friends of Artesians member Pat McLain says. "Every aspect of the community is tied to the well."

The group says it might be time for the city to help find a new site or two where the artesian tradition can be kept alive.

Talks are just beginning at City Hall about what role the city could play, Councilman Stan Biles says, but he pictures the wells in urban parklike settings.

"I can envision several wells at strategic downtown locations," he says.

They would be welcomed by the thousands of people who already trek regularly to the Diamond Parking well to gather the water in jugs and jars, swearing by its pure taste and more.

"Some people believe it has healing powers," says downtown Olympia worker Lila Trillium as she takes a sip herself.

John Dodge covers the environment for The Olympian. He can be reached at 754-5444.

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