Weekly deliveries of 500-gallon water tanks help people survive.
Imagine not having water for weeks or even months in your home. No showers, no dish or clothes washing. No water for cooking. You turn on the kitchen faucet – nothing comes out. That is what was facing more than 300 homes and the people in them in Klamath County. Their wells went dry due to the drought and other issues.
Drought is not a foreign concept to people in Klamath Falls. But this drought is different. The water level is too low and it could be months before the winter rains can fill the wells.
How it all started
After the phone calls came in from people whose wells were dry, crisis planning started with the Klamath County Commission identifying the needs, resources, and partners required to get people water. There is a backlog of well drillers right now, so another solution was required. The commission brought in the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) Emergency Management Unit, the state Office of Emergency Management, Oregon Water/Wastewater Agency Resources, the Klamath Falls Watermaster, and even the Tualatin Valley Water District, which loaned Klamath a water distribution trailer for people to get smaller amounts of water.
Micah Goettl, ODHS Regional Emergency Coordinator for South and Southeast Oregon, organized the department’s efforts. The Regional Coordinators are part of the ODHS Emergency Management Unit and one of the unit’s roles is to provide water to people in an emergency. More than 300 homes initially were confirmed to need water. It’s estimated that there are about 1,800 homes in Klamath County on private wells so potentially more homes could be affected in the future.
“We searched and were able to secure 38, 500-gallon plastic water tanks from a firm in Oklahoma. But they needed a lot more water tanks. The remaining tanks will be manufactured because we are not the only state seeking tanks to address the lack of water due to drought,” Goettl said.
Goettl reached out to Russ Monk, owner of Watershed, a rainwear company that also makes personal protective equipment, in Salem. Monk then contacted Quadel Industries, owned by Eric and Connie Luckman, in Coos Bay. Quadel will be manufacturing 288 tanks, Eric Luckman said.
“We’ll do extra shifts to accommodate the timeline this month. We’ll be spinning them out 24 at a time,” he said.
First tanks delivered
The first tanks, filled from the Klamath Falls municipal water supply, were delivered to people toward the end of July. The plastic tanks measure 4 by 7 feet. To use the tanks, the homes need to be plumbed, Weekly water deliveries are scheduled through October.
Tim Seymour, Response and Preparedness Regional Coordinator with Oregon Emergency Management tells a story about a man who came in to pick up his 500-gallon tank. “The people there also saw his smaller water jugs were empty and so they gave him eight more gallons of water. He was thrilled. It’s clear when people’s wells go dry it is a different level of fear, concern, and stress.”
It’s estimated that people need 80 to 100 gallons of water a day, so people receiving the water tanks will still need to ration their water. “The goal is to get you to where you can survive and make it out,” he said.
Seymour, and most everyone involved, praised the whole-hearted response of everyone involved in getting people the water they need.
“I want to highlight how proactive the county has been. Each county-level person has really pitched in and carried through – the City of Klamath Falls the Road Department – they made road signs for the water distribution site. They saw the need and they filled the need,” Seymour said.
Kelley Minty Morris, Klamath County Commission Chairperson, also applauded the response of the community.
“When we first began learning that domestic wells were going dry – and we’re not unfamiliar with drought and water supply issues – we use a neighbor’s well or we go stay with a family member. But this time those wells went dry also. The culture of Klamath Falls is that we’ll take care of our problems,” she said.
“But this time we had to connect with host of state players. Then had to align resources and partners to help us navigate this. It’s been phenomenal how the state resources have just opened up for us,” Morris said.
She added, “I think two things: 1. — It’s very easy to criticize the work of government but there are times when the government is needed to step in to really help citizens with basic needs; and 2. People think government tends to move slowly and is uncaring. I saw the exact opposite from every person on the team. Everyone put their heart in getting water to county residents. These are people with a lot of heart and a lot of skills. This is the most incredible project I have ever been involved in.”
And this collaboration and hard work to help people get a necessity of life – water – has been felt by those receiving the water.
“A woman wrote to me when she read that she would be able to get her tank filled through ODHS, she cried. She was so relieved that someone was stepping in to help,” Morris said.