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Published November 28, 2008

Support for artesian well has dried up

The South Sound community is in jeopardy of losing its one source of fresh artesian water. It's difficult to understand why this community does not have an artesian well park where people could fill jugs to the brim with cool, pure artesian water.

There were dozens of artesian wells in downtown Olympia historically, but only one -- in the Diamond Parking lot off Fourth Avenue is available to the public. It's immensely popular, yet it's at risk of disappearing.

For 15 years, members of Friends of Artesians have battled the bureaucracy to create an artesian park. Tired of slamming their heads against the wall, the friends have called it quits.

Who can blame them?

The blame here lies with public officials -- primarily at the city of Olympia -- who say they are not willing to maintain a free-flowing water supply for unlimited, uncontrolled public consumption. It's the wrong position.

Our greatest fear is that the exodus of the Friends of Artesians will prompt officials in the Diamond organization to say "enough is enough" and cap their well. Then members of the public, who sometimes have to line up to get the free-flowing water, will lose access to their only source of artesian water.

Members of the Friends of Artesians have been conducting monthly water-quality tests for fecal coliform at the Diamond property. With the disbanding of the nonprofit organization, who will test the water and ensure its purity?

Simply asking the city to add the Diamond lot to their round of monthly testing apparently is too much for taxpayers to expect of their public servants.

Unless Diamond Parking, the city or some other group takes over testing, the public well will be lost.

"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 South Sound residents trek to the Diamond lot because the artesian water is not treated with chlorine. The city's water supply has chlorine added.

And that draws the city's motivation into question. Are city officials concerned that an artesian well with easy access to artesian water would be in competition with Olympia's water delivery system where customers are charged a monthly fee?

Given this community's constant struggle to identify additional sources of potable water, you would think Olympia officials would jump at the chance to reduce demand on city resources by accommodating those who prefer the unchlorinated artesian water.

Despite their best efforts and they can be difficult to deal with -- Friends of Artesians have been unable to broker a deal with the city or 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.

The real hang up is the city's opposition to providing a public water resource. City officials also have liability concerns.

Friends of Artesians founding member Jim Ingersoll said his organization has "concluded that the city itself must take leadership to make it happen."

Ingersoll is right.

It's encouraging that Councilman Craig Ottavelli has said, "As long as there are citizens that wish to pursue a well in the city, I will continue to work with them."

Now all Ottavelli has to do is recognize that what the public wants is an uncontrolled source of artesian water. It's not too much to ask.

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Updated 2008/11/30 20:58:18

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