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Of the Keizertimes

A plan to continue using underground injection control (UIC) systems to treat stormwater will save hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in the future, city officials hope.

The City of Keizer entered into a sole-source contract with GSI Water Solutions Inc. to develop a plan that will let the city keep using the UICs in lieu of pricey upgrades. It will cost the city about $40,000 over the next two budget years.

“We’re trying to be proactive about keeping our UICs which really are an efficient and safe way to manage storm water,” said Elizabeth Sagmiller, environmental program manager for the city.

The UICs are prevalent throughout the city; Keizer has more than 100 of them. They perform similar functions to a storm drain system, with one big exception: Instead of collecting water to drain into creeks and rivers, they inject water into the ground onsite. From above ground they can only be identified by the red medallions placed on them. They’re sometimes referred to as dry wells or injection wells. Water is injected into the soil, then the dirt and various organisms within it clean much of the pollutants.

The Meadows and the Vineyards in north Keizer both have large UIC systems for draining stormwater, while smaller systems exist throughout the city. Many were installed by Marion County before the city incorporated.

Keizer also has no shortage of wells, be they in backyards, in city pump stations or in farmers’ fields for irrigation: The city has 15 public wells, and at least 180 water wells are active on private property. Federal and state regulations govern how UICs are used; one law states they cannot be less than 500 feet from any well. About three out of four UICs are too close to some kind of well, which is why Sagmiller is hoping GSI Water Solutions is able to do what it did for the City of Portland and is working on for Redmond, Bend, Gresham and Clackamas County. State law requires a permit to continue operating the UICs.

In order to get an exception and be issued a permit, city officials have to show that the UICs, even though they’re closer than the law stipulates, are protecting groundwater. The firm has developed a groundwater protective model that allowed Portland to continue operating its UICs.

“We can either close the UIC and provide some other kind of drainage for an area, which is very, very expensive,” Sagmiller said. “Or we can prove that the storm water that we’re putting into the UIC is protective of groundwater. That’s what the model does.”

She said replacing the UICs would be a costly duplication of effort.

“We don’t want to alarm people to think (UICs) are potentially dangerous for drinking water,” she said. “They’re really not. They’re good for the environment.”