Wednesday, March 22, 2023

It's the water, and a lot more

Staff Writer | March 18, 2023 1:05 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — The city of Coeur d'Alene's water department produces about 4.2 billion gallons of water each year.

Come summer, when it rises to 90 degrees and higher, it will kick out up to 40 million gallons a day.

The average homeowner will use from 20,000 to 30,000 gallons a month and pay just $25 to $30, reportedly the lowest rates in the Northwest.

That it has kept all that water flowing smoothly earned the water department the Drinking Water System of the Year Award for 2023 from the Idaho Rural Water Association at its recent spring conference in Boise.

"I'm pretty pleased," said Terry Pickel, water department director, on Friday. "We work very hard to improve our system."

Each year the award is presented to public water systems that have worked to provide the best water quality, outstanding customer service and overall system reliability.

While taste wasn't part of the award, Coeur d'Alene is known for good water that comes from the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.

So good, in fact, that Pickel said one visitor suggested the city sell it as a health supplement.

"One of the most pristine water sources in the world," Pickel said.

Coeur d'Alene, with a population of about 54,000, has 318 miles of water pipeline and 20,000 service connections.

It treats the water with chlorine — .2 parts per million — and that's it.

Pickel has been with the city for 18 years and was named water department director in 2016. He said the Drinking Water System of the Year Award is a tribute to the department's staff of about 25-30.

"Another feather in our cap," he said.

The city is capable of producing up to 49 million gallons a day. Another well is in the planning stages, which is projected to bring it to about 55 million gallons a day.

The Coeur d'Alene Water Department has been cited by the Department of Environmental Quality as a model in North Idaho.

Shelley Roberts, IRWA chief executive officer, said public water systems, municipalities, homeowners' association and more have been nominated for the award.

"It's a pretty hard-working group of people," Roberts said.

She said they review water systems and water quality, but also whether the nominee provides regional leadership.

Coeur d'Alene does that, Roberts said.

In presenting the award, she said Coeur d'Alene has a history of demonstrating outstanding customer service as well as providing important cross connection control measures and source water protection.

"The city values its staff and their hard work, so it continues to work toward creating better working conditions for its employees," she said.

Roberts said the water department staff frequently exceeded expectations by helping neighboring systems, participating in organizations that educate the community and encouraging the protection of their sole source aquifer.

"This city strives to lead the industry in the protection of the public health and continues to demonstrate great qualities of a drinking water system," Roberts said.

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