The City of Prineville has tried during the past decade to reduce the amount of water its system lost on an annual basis.
That work has proven fruitful, enabling the city to produce less water in recent years despite an increase in overall demand from 10 years earlier.
And while that work was not done in an effort to receive any special recognition, it recently resulted in the Oregon Water Resources Department naming the city the winner of its Best Water Management and Conservation Plan award. The award goes to a municipality serving at least 1,000 people.
Apple Inc., which has operated a data center in Prineville for the past few years, nominated the city for the award, saying that the community "continues to develop innovative mechanisms for long-term water conservation."
City Engineer Eric Klann, who has been with the city since 2007 when it was at its peak water loss, credits the public works department for the recognition, pointing out that they have completed "a lot of long hours and tough projects" to save more water.
"The city has gotten really aggressive on our unaccounted-for water," he said. "That might be water that we are losing to leaky pipes or if the tanks are overflowing or meters are broken or what have you."
Conservation efforts have included about 8 miles of water supply line replacements and changing out old wooden lines for PVC pipe. Public works has also replaced many water meters throughout the community, swapping gear-driven ones for more accurate digital meters that are capable of detecting a leaking pipe.
"The public works guys have done a great job. If they notice a leaky pipe, they are right in after it," Klann said. "They have done a great job of managing the wells and the tanks and everything."
Another major savings was achieved when the Prineville Police Department upgraded its heating and cooling system. The old system utilized groundwater to cool the facility, and that water was then dumped back into the ground. They replaced it with a state-of-the-art heating and cooling system, resulting in a savings of 1.1 million gallons of water per month.
In 2008, the city reached a peak water loss of 27.9 percent or 172 million gallons per year. Since that time, the city reduced the amount of water loss each year. In 2016, the percentage of unaccounted-for water dropped to 1.9 percent or 10 million gallons, well below the 15 percent threshold the Oregon Water Resources Department asks municipalities to target.
"So you could say that we are saving 162 million gallons of water a year (compared to 2008)," Klann stated. "If we were to place that on a football field, that would be a 'stack' of water 450 feet tall."
The city will likely struggle to improve upon that water loss number, given that a certain amount of water loss is inevitable no matter what a municipality does.
"That's pretty amazing," Klann said of the 1.9 percent water loss. "I hate to say it, but we are probably going to tick up next year because even if you are doing everything right, you are going to be right around 3 to 5 percent."
In honor of the award, city staff and leaders will be paid a visit later this month by a representative of the Oregon Water Resources Department, who will present them with a plaque during a city council meeting.
"I am very, very proud of the public works department," Klann said.