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Published November 20, 2008

Artesian well supporters disband

John Dodge

The Friends of Artesians called it quits Wednesday in its 15-year quest for a publicly owned artesian well in downtown Olympia.

The demise of the nonprofit group raises questions about the future of the artesian well in the Diamond Parking lot on Fourth Avenue in downtown Olympia, a popular source of free-flowing water to countless South Sound residents.

In the past, state and local health officials have threatened to shut down the aging well, but they stopped short as long as Friends of Artesians conducted monthly water-quality tests there and worked to secure a new well site.

Water tests

Friends of Artesians founding member Jim Ingersoll said his group will stop testing the water on behalf of Diamond Parking after February.

Unless Diamond Parking, the city or some other group takes over testing, the well has a shaky future.

"Continued use of the well absolutely requires continued testing," noted Ginny Stern, a hydrogeologist in the state Department of Health's drinking-water program.

Hundreds of people draw water from the last of what once were dozens of artesian wells that served downtown Olympia from early settler days until the development of a more centralized city water system.

By definition, artesian water is groundwater under pressure that flows to the surface when a well is drilled, without the use of a pump.

People come from all over Thurston County and beyond to fill their water containers when their wells run dry or their own sources of water are tainted with iron and manganese. Some prefer it to chlorinated city water.

"Many well users believe the water is beneficial to their health," Ingersoll said in a letter to Olympia Mayor Doug Mah and the City Council, announcing that the group is disbanding.

Ingersoll gave three reasons for the group's decision:

  • The group has been unable to broker a deal with the city and Port of Olympia to drill a test well on port property near the Olympia Farmers Market. Health officials require an agreement between the city and port for the drilling to proceed, but city officials have been reluctant to sign any agreement until the well is drilled, tested, approved and financed.

  • Friends of Artesians and city officials have a frayed relationship. Ingersoll said the city officials keep sending mixed messages on their willingness to own a public, free-flowing well.

Olympia City Councilmember Craig Ottavelli disagrees. He said the real hang-up is that the city is willing to own and maintain an artesian well park, but not a free-flowing water supply for unlimited, uncontrolled public use.

Friends of Artesians have insisted the well should be both a public gathering place and source of water.

  • A well-driller who had donated his services valued at about $20,000 to drill the test well has withdrawn his offer due to the economic downturn.

"We have not made the decision to disband without grief and sadness," Ingersoll said in his letter. "But we've concluded that the city itself must take leadership to make it happen."

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Updated 2008/11/30 20:55:16

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