Flow is slow, Graham residents say

EIJIRO KAWADA; The News Tribune


Graham, WA - On a recent weekday afternoon, Dennis Betters timed how long it took to fill a five-gallon water bucket at his Graham home.

It was 17 minutes with the faucet fully open.

The surprising part is that Betters wasn't at all surprised.

"We've been having this problem for four years," he said.

Homeowners in his Graham neighborhood - about 400 households in the hilltop section of the Silver Creek development - are having a hard time laundering clothes, watering lawns and washing cars. Residents say their water pressure has steadily declined since they moved in.

However, an official at Rainier View Water Company, which provides drinking water to the area, said the low pressure was an isolated incident when one of the well pumps went out about a week ago.

"I'm not aware of any issues right now," said Bob Blackman, operations manager at Rainier View.

Blackman said his company received many phone calls - about 30 by his estimate - when a well near Frontier Park in Graham went out of commission, but he said he hasn't heard complaints since then.

The broken pump explanation is hard to swallow for residents who say low water pressure has persisted for several years.

"That's an excuse that they always use," said Lavern Peterson, homeowners association president at Silver Creek. "It's a chronic problem. In the summertime - without exaggerating - it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to fill up the washer."

Last year, officials with Graham Fire & Rescue No. 21 were concerned enough to hold a meeting with Rainier View representatives. Fire officials thought they might not be able to rely on fire hydrants during an emergency.

"It was corrected then," said deputy fire chief Gary Franz. "So far (this year) we have not seen any concerns that would make us take action."

But Franz also said he and his firefighters, who are all Rainier View customers, have dealt with occasional low water pressure this year.

Rainier View operates 28 water systems in Pierce County and two in Kitsap County. It serves a total of about 14,000 households in Graham, Spanaway, Gig Harbor, Roy, McKenna and other areas.

The state Health Department's Office of Drinking Water oversees the minimum water flow required by law, which is 30 pounds per square inch. Bob James, manager of the northwest region, said his office ensures water pressure is maintained by reviewing and approving six-year plans, as well as designs to upgrade water systems.

James said the office received one call when the pump went out about a week ago, and it contacted Rainier View to talk about it. If complaints from customers persist, he said his office might investigate.

Blackman said the low-pressure problem tends to occur during heavy use on hot days, although some residents disagree. He said Rainier Water had its six-year plan approved in 2002, and this year a design was approved to tap into the Tacoma Public Utilities' water line to "increase reliability and additional capacity."

John Kirner, water superintendent for Tacoma Public Utilities, said that connection likely will happen by the end of this month. It might or might not solve the pressure problem.

Residents said some subdivisions at the bottom of the hill seem to be doing just fine. They said the problem seems to be contained to the Silver Creek development, which includes houses valued at around $800,000.

"The pressure is so low that sprinklers' heads are not popping," Betters said. "In my opinion, (Rainier View) should be accountable. If we can't water the lawn, that's their problem."

Eijiro Kawada: 253-597-8633



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