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City is applying to several state and federal grant programs to secure funding to fix the aging system

St. Paul residents have been complaining for several years about the city's water quality.

The Facebook group "Our St. Paul Community Forum" page is dotted with pictures of residents holding glasses of brown cloudy water or complaining about the water's smell.

Fortunately for residents the water is safe to drink, despite being unpleasant.

Now the city is looking for funding to fix its water system. St. Paul is applying for several state and federal grant programs which provide funding for rural communities, according to St. Paul Mayor Kim Wallis.

The city is eyeing the USDA's Water and Waste Water Disposal Loan and Grant program in particular. The program helps rural communities with 10,000 or less residents fund clean drinking water systems, sewage and solid waste disposal, and storm water drainage. Congress approved a USDA spending bill in 2018 which included $5.2 billion for water and infrastructure programs.

"The biggest thing is the USDA's new rural water development fund; it's a new pot of money," Wallis said.

The city is looking to meet with representatives from the USDA this week, and has already been told St. Paul will likely qualify. The cities of Willamina and Detroit were recently awarded grants from the same program.

"I don't even know exactly how much they can fund," Wallis said.

St. Paul will need to update its water master plan before applying for further federal grants or loans, and will apply for a $20,000 grant provided by the state for cities updating their water plans. The city is also working to complete a water conservation management plan mandated by the state.

"Those are two key documents we're going need for state and federal grants. It's a big jigsaw puzzle," Wallis said.

The city's water woes go back to 2014 when the city's water filtration system was taken offline, Wallis said. The filter media in the system wasn't installed correctly, leading to a number of malfunctions during operation.

In the short term the city hopes to address that problem with help from the Oregon Association of Water Utilities. A consultant from OAWU has been working with St. Paul's public works department to assess the city's water system and filtration tanks, with the hope of repairing the filtration system and also bringing an unused chlorine injection system on line.

St. Paul could also expand its supply of clean water with a use agreement with the St. Paul Rodeo Association. The Rodeo Association drilled a well on its property behind the rodeo grounds a couple of years ago, which produces better quality water. The city would like to connect the rodeo well to the city lines, Wallis said.

The city will also pressure wash and repaint the city reservoir, which is chipping. Repainting will only be an aesthetic fix, Wallis said. The city will likely hire a diving company to clean the system's filtration tanks of sand and manganese buildup, which should help the quality.

"I'm kind of hopeful," Wallis said. "Give us another month and we'll be on our way to fix a lot of these problems."

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