Arlington back to using own water source after contamination fears

ARLINGTON — Arlington residents are drinking their own water again.

Even if people hadn’t noticed it, the city replaced its primary water supply with water from the Snohomish County Public Utility District for more than a month, at a cost that could run into the six figures.

The reason: fear that contamination from the Oso mudslide would leech into the city’s well water.

Haller Well, about 60 feet from the Stillaguamish River in Haller Park, supplies about 89 percent of the city’s drinking water, according to the city’s annual water quality report.

When the slide blocked the North Fork Stillaguamish on March 22 and the river began to back up behind the mudslide debris field, the fear was that a sudden failure of the dam would send a flash flood downstream and damage the well.

“We didn’t know what would be coming down that river,” Mayor Barbara Tolbert said.

The decision was made to turn off the pumps and draw water from the county.

The city maintains a long-term contract with the Snohomish County Public Utility District to buy up to 1,000 gallons of water per day.

Arlington Public Works director James Kelly said that PUD water normally serves only customers who live outside the area of the well’s pressure zone, or is used to handle peak demand on hot summer days.

In this case, PUD water replaced the city’s supply entirely and remained that way for more a month because of fear of contamination from slide debris.

While the water in the well is groundwater, the well is close enough to the river that sediment or contaminants in the river can get into the well water, Kelly said.

Testing of the river in the days after the slide showed a high degree of turbidity, or lack of clarity, as well as levels of antimony, arsenic, chromium and lead that were above state and federal limits for drinking water.

That could have contaminated the city’s drinking water had the well been active, Kelly said.

“A lot of this we did for the safety of our customers,” Kelly said.

It wasn’t until April 22, a month after the slide, that the levels of contaminants in the river had dropped to within acceptable ranges and the city began pumping water from the well again.

The well pumping increased gradually and, by May 1, was up to full production.

How much this will cost the city is not known, but Tolbert guessed Arlington could be on the hook for between $100,000 and $200,000 for the PUD’s water.

She said the city would work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to see how much can be reimbursed.

Municipalities can be compensated for some emergency expenses under major disaster declarations, said Donald Jacks, assistant external affairs officer for FEMA.

FEMA has closed the three Disaster Recovery Centers in Washington it had operated after the mudslide but is still operating out of the Snohomish County Family Resource Center in Darrington.

The process for a city like Arlington involves working with Snohomish County and the state to identify which expenses FEMA might cover. The process is the same that has been used in other major disasters. The disaster declaration covers impacts to government and tribal agencies as well as individuals, as in the case of Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy, Jacks said.

Chris Winters: 415-374-4165 or

More in Local News

Mom gives her $25,000 windfall to Marysville high schools

Among the beneficiaries is the drama club, which gets much-needed audio equipment.

Why Republican legislators voted against a property tax cut

You’ll no doubt be hearing about it in campaign ads next fall.

Driver hospitalized after I-5 rollover crash near Arlington

A medical problem is believed to have caused the accident.

Man struck, killed by Everett Transit bus Friday night

He was in the roadway between 75th Street SE and Beverly Boulevard when he was hit, police said.

Sky Valley honors its own

Civic and nonprofit groups in Sultan, Gold Bar, Index and Skykomish gather to recognize volunteers.

Rotary Club of Everett honors outstanding seniors

The Rotary Club of Everett honored its February Students of the Month:… Continue reading

ORCA places third at Orca Bowl

A team from Everett Community College’s Ocean Research College Academy (ORCA) for… Continue reading

Edmonds man gets prison for Navy cadet program embezzlement

Michael Leighton, 49, also must pay over $75,000 in restitution.

New books donated to Edmonds schools highlight diversity

The Edmonds Diversity Commission donated children’s books to local elementary schools that… Continue reading

Most Read