Water problems? What water problems?


Last updated 2/1/2022 at Noon

Bill Bartlett

Well drilling is a demanding job.

The Nugget’s Sue Stafford is doing extensive reporting on the effect of long-term drought in Sisters Country, and specifically on the impact to homeowners with water wells running dry. As she has reported, residents within the city limits are served municipally. The City is projecting more than adequate capacity to meet growing demand with no foreseeable shortages.

Outside the City’s boundary it’s an entirely different story, since property owners must drill their own well if they are not part of a community system provided by private water companies, like Avion Water Co., for example, who serves Squaw Creek Canyon Estates.

Depending on location, private wells are plumbed as little as 300 feet in depth or up to 800 feet in the vicinity of Mountain View Road to reach water. The cost of a 750-foot well is between $40,000 and $45,000. That would seem a significant cost.

Denny Turner, a high-end home builder and developer, doesn’t see cost as the problem though.

“Hey, if I’m building a $1.8 million home, what’s another 40 grand?” he said.

He’s more agitated by the six-month lead time to get a driller on site. The handful of drillers serving Sisters Country are already contending with rapid growth, and are stretched thin.

“New wells always take a back seat to wells running dry or a well whose pump has failed,” Turner said, sympathetically. “So builders are constantly being shuffled in the scheduling deck.”

Contractors need water to build a home — for concrete, masonry, plumbing — and don’t like to start a project until water is at the site. However, in present market conditions contractors are dealing daily with disgruntled buyers who are frequently disappointed in the process of building.

“Nobody wants my job,” Turner said. “I start with whatever I can whenever I can, water or not.” More irritating for builders, apparently, is the lack of workers and the permitting process, water — or lack of it — being more or less an afterthought.

Carol Zosel of KellerWilliams ZoselHarper doesn’t find buyers curious about water when looking for property.

“Their most-expressed concern is wildfire,” Zosel said. “Buyers tend to take water for granted, especially if they come from places other than California where drought is topical. Buyers from Portland and Seattle don’t imagine water ever being an issue.”

Patty Cordoni, a principal broker with Cascade Sotheby’s, who specializes in equestrian and ranch properties, is mostly in agreement. Her buyers either know they will have to drill a well if none exists or are savvy enough to visualize water needs.

“We make sure our clients get a well test as a condition of the sale,” Cordoni said. “A flow test and well installation history will reveal the adequacy of the well.”

Wells involved in a real-estate transaction also get a water quality test pursuant to the state’s Domestic Well Testing Act. Oregon’s Water Resources Department is not an idle bystander in the battle to conserve water and regulate well drilling.

A slightly more complex picture is painted by Kevin Dyer, principal broker of Ponderosa Properties, who have rural properties as a significant portion of their transactions. Many of these are dry lots, meaning no wells or immediate access to irrigation district water. Dyer explained how the State regulates water usage on private land.

Water for a home and garden is an altogether different situation from land on which there will be animals or crops. A big part of the current problem, Dyer says, is the lack of irrigation water derived from snowmelt. When irrigation districts curtail water, that action causes some property owners to turn to their wells, which draws down the aquifer even faster than mother nature.

Ponderosa Properties’ clients for farm or ranch properties are mostly knowledgeable about water rights. Buyers are not put off by awareness of the drought. Dyer relates a response of a recent client, who said: “Maybe, but not as bad as where I come from.”

The firm’s sales have shown no lessening of demand.

Realtors tell The Nugget that most wells drilled in the last 10 to 15 years are deeper than necessary to hit water. The problem is primarily older, shallower wells. In the 1970s and ’80s, drillers might only go deep enough to hit water and stop. Now, another 100- to 200-foot buffer is routine.

A poll of realtors also indicates that the problem of dry wells increases the farther east one goes from the mountains. All realtors The Nugget sampled are concerned, but not yet at the worry stage, about the long-running drought, and do not see any deterrence to their sales for the near term.

The same realtors are advising clients to put in more hardscape gardens and patios and be more attentive to drought-resistant planting, both as a water-conservation measure and a “firewise” precaution.


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