Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce endorses infrastructure plan

The threat of contamination of drinking water spurred the group to endorse the city plan.

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WALLA WALLA -- The Chamber of Commerce gave its approval this week for a city proposal to replace its failing infrastructure of underground water and sewer pipes, as well as the roads above those pipes, and paying for the decades of work with a 50 percent graduated increase in water and sewer rates over the next five years.

"Imagine for a minute what would happen to Walla Walla's business climate if we had a major system failure that caused contamination to our potable water supply. How many tourists do you think would visit a town where you could not safely consume the water?" wrote Damien Sinnott, the Chamber of Commerce's director of public policy and legal affairs, in an opinion column in Monday's U-B.

But it turns out the possibility of contamination to the city's potable water lines because of the failing infrastructure is an unlikely, according Interim Public Works Director Tom Purcell.

"The potable water lines are held under pressure so the prospect in unlikely," Purcell noted, making it clear that though potable water pipes are leaking as much as a billion gallons a year, because they are under pressure they are not at risk of being contaminated from nearby leaking sewer lines.

But that isn't the case for the Valley's shallow aquifer, which is still the source of water for a number of city and county residents and businesses, who rely on wells for irrigation and drinking water.

"I think the greatest potential threat to the public health can come from infrastructure sewer lines during the dry season," said City Manger Nabiel Shawa. "You have parched soil. And the (sewer) water, instead of running into the pipes, can start running out of the pipes, and that is where it can contaminate the shallow aquifer," Shawa said.

Though far more probable than contaminated potable lines, the possibility of contamination to the aquifer is still a big unknown.

"The likelihood, we don't even know what the amount is," Shawa said.

The third facet of the Infrastructure Repair and Replacement Plan, roads improvements, was not a major factor in swaying the Chamber of Commerce, Sinnott said, in an interview Monday.

"I think everybody complains about the roads, and we didn't really consider that as a huge threat to our businesses," he added.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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