City public works has sufficient chlorine available to maintain drinking water supply

INTERNET PHOTO - City public works has sufficient chlorine available to maintain the local drinking water supply.

Multiple communities are facing drinking water shortage concerns amidst a nationwide chlorine shortage, although Prineville is not one of them.

According to media reports, factors of COVID-19 isolation, an increased demand for backyard pools, and a fire at a Louisiana chlorine plant have combined to create the worst chlorine shortage the country has ever seen. Meanwhile, Westlake Chemical, based in Longview, Washington, the West Coast manufacturer of sodium hypochlorite, suffered a major electrical failure and is unsure when they can resume production.

Oregon and Washington wastewater and drinking water service providers are facing down the shortage of the critical chemical component in the water-treatment process. Sodium hypochlorite degrades over time, so maintaining long-term inventory is not an option.

According to a fact sheet being distributed by the state, Oregon authorities are tracking for potential impacts, but there is no immediate change for consumers anticipated. The state is acquiring pallets of drinking water, if they are needed, but say there is no need for members of the public to amass water supplies.

Gov. Kate Brown's office, statewide Emergency Management and U.S. Homeland Security are leading efforts to procure new chlorine supplies. Agencies are reporting directly to Oregon Emergency Management regarding their current supply duration.

In Prineville, public works officials have planned ahead and do not expect the chlorine shortage to affect the community's water system.

"Most of our wells run on chlorine tablets. … We have approximately four months of that and another order placed this week," Pat Goehring, public works supervisor, said during a city council meeting two weeks ago. "(Regarding) drinking water, only one of the wells runs off of chlorine gas, the rest run off of the tablets. I can shut that well down – we have enough wells to run without the gas."

Goehring went on to acknowledge that the wastewater treatment plant does run entirely off of chlorine gas, but the city has about 73 days of chlorine gas stock and another 20 ordered on standby.

"So that would put us out to approximately 150," he said.

Public works expected the Longview plant to get back online and increase capacity, eventually putting the city's supply in a good position moving forward. Meanwhile, Goehring said he has been in contact with Crook County Fire and Rescue regarding storage capacity of chlorine gas, a hazardous gas.

"They have given me the OK of capacity to overstock," he said.

City Councilor Steve Uffelman praised the local leaders for their preparation, noting that other communities in Oregon haven't been so fortunate.

"At the League of Oregon Cities meeting I attended, it was announced that Lake Oswego has 14 days' supply, and several other communities in that area are also down to very limited supplies," he said. "So having the foresight to take care of the problem in advance, thank you very much."

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