Water System

Challenges and Accomplishments in Managing the Town of Lyman's Water System

The town of Lyman's efforts to improve its drinking water system is a success story of leadership, vision and perseverance. Following are two articles from "Water Tap," Washington's Drinking Water Newsletter, published by the Washington State Department of Health, telling the story from its conception in 2002 to completion in 2007.

Click here for Small Communities Initiative in Action (Issue 49, June 2002)

Click here for Small Communities Initiative in Action (Volume 22 #1, February 2007)

Small Communities Initiative in Action

Lyman, with help from the state, begins a process to upgrade its drinking water infrastructure

Article from "Water Tap," Issue 49, June 2002

The small Skagit County town of Lyman (population 400) is on the North Cascades highway a few miles east of Sedro Woolley.

Rainfall in Lyman averages around 50 inches a year - rain that's about as pure as you can get, usually blowing in straight off the Pacific, with no upwind source of pollution closer than Japan, 5,000 miles to the west.

Lyman's water system has always been the essence of simplicity: Sink a couple of wells, pump the water up, store it in a reservoir, and deliver it to the customers.

Simple, direct, and cheap: Clean well water, no added treatment, cost to residential customers about $15 a month.

Uh oh - trouble

But then, starting in 1996, newly required testing for copper in the town's drinking water began showing levels of copper that were above the maximum allowed by federal and state standards. Higher than normal levels of copper in drinking water can cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea. The recommended system improvement for Lyman is an efficiently designed aeration system to reduce corrosion of copper plumbing.

Other analysis also began showing that one of Lyman's two drinking water wells is in hydraulic connection with surface water. Like many shallow wells serving small communities, it is vulnerable to contamination that can be carried in surface water, including disease-causing organisms. The fix for this is full-time disinfection - something entirely new for Lyman.

These new treatments are expensive but necessary if Lyman's water system is to be in compliance with requirements of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Looking for solutions

In February 1999 the state Department of Health and Ecology, the Office of Community Development, and the Office of Trade and Economic Development began formally collaborating to help small, rural communities like Lyman in their struggle to maintain economic viability and comply with health and environmental regulations. Lyman was selected as one of the pilot communities for this effort, known as the Small Communities Initiative (SCI).

SCI staff worked with officials and staff from the town, Division of Drinking Water staff, Ecology Water Resources Division staff, and the town's consulting engineers to make sure everyone understood what needed to be done. Agency staff acted as facilitators, advisors, and resource brokers to help identify, define, and prioritize issues related to public health, environmental protection, and local development. They then developed an action plan for carrying out the work.

Lyman and the Department of Health originally agreed on a schedule for designing, building, and testing water treatment improvements by signing a Bilateral Compliance Agreement in November 1999. The department allowed modification of the BCA schedule in October 2001 and again in May 2002.

SCI staff helped town officials apply for grants and loans to complete the necessary Water System Plan and a Project Report. This $78,500 funding package included:

$10,000 cash from the town.
$19,500 loan from the Skagit County Public Works Revolving Loan Fund.
$24,000 grant from the Community Development Block Grant.
$25,000 grant from the US Forest Service Rural Community Assistance Program.

The Department of Health approved the Water System Plan on March 6, 2002, and the town submitted the Project Report in early 2002.

Small Communities Initiative in Action

The town of Lyman resolved all issues in the compliance order, met current fire-flow standards, and gained the capacity it needs to grow.

Article from "Water Tap," Volume 22 #1, February 2007.

Upgrading a small town water system can be a huge challenge. It takes time, money and ongoing coordination among multiple individuals and organizations involved in funding, planning, regulations, design and construction. It takes leadership, vision and perseverance.

The town of Lyman accepted the challenge four years ago with help from the Small Communities Initiative, a multi-agency approach to helping small towns in Washington meet state requirements for safe drinking water.

At that time, the town's water system was under a Department of Health Bilateral Compliance Agreement requiring it to control corrosion and improve its disinfection system.

Using an $840,238 Drinking Water State Revolving Fund loan with a 0.5 percent interest rate, and a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant, the town resolved all issues in the compliance order, met current fire-flow standards, and gained the capacity it needs to grow.

The Town:

Built a new well house with disinfection equipment
Installed corrosion control
Constructed a new reservoir
Installed meters
Replaced 6,000 feet of distribution lines and an inter-tie between its two wells

After the system improvements, the town completed two rounds of lead and copper testing. Results for both are below the action level. The town abandoned the old flat water rate in favor of a volume-based rate structure, employees are reading water meters monthly, and water use efficiency has increased by 50 percent.

"The fact that we are actually making progress on the mandates from DOH and others has definitely improved our relationship with the various agencies," says Mayor Chris Stormont.