Local News

Boil water notice lifted at Evergreen Acres in Jewell

JEWELL, Ore. — The water is safe to drink again in a rural neighborhood that has been living under a boil water notice for more than a year.

State and county officials announced Friday evening that samples from the Evergreen Acres water system have come back clean of coliform bacteria, or E. coli. The system provides drinking water to around 100 people.

Residents had been boiling their water, buying bottled water or hauling in water from other sources since the end of 2022.

Representatives with the Oregon Health Authority were on-site Wednesday to take water samples.

Jonathan Modie, a spokesperson for the health authority, said the water system’s operator, Tony Cavin, had not been responding to the state or county environmental health inspectors for some time, but “in the light of recent media attention and our efforts to reach him multiple times, he agreed to operate the system properly and cooperate with us.”

Modie said Cavin could face penalties. The state has served Cavin with a notice of intent to assess penalties that had been outlined in an administrative order issued in February, several months after testing found bacteria in the water system.

The order found that, given the ongoing issues at the system, Cavin could not assure his customers that their water was clean and that they would not be “exposed to disease or harmful physiological effects … This represents a potential public health hazard.”

Cavin did not respond to the letter at the time.

Earlier last year, Cavin told people he was no longer operating the water system. But he reemerged in the fall, claiming he owned the water rights and threatening legal action against new property owners who hoped to take over operation of the system and bring it back into compliance with state regulations.

State and county officials told KMUN in December that the question of ownership was hampering their ability to intervene.

Now, Modie said, “Until the ownership issue is resolved for this water system, OHA will continue to use its enforcement authority to compel the current water system operator to take action to get the system into compliance.”

The state had previously noted 15 unresolved enforcement issues with the Evergreen Acres water system, including the boil water notice.

The situation at Evergreen Acres had gone unnoticed by elected officials until KMUN’s reporting in December and subsequent reporting by other media outlets. Since then, state Sen. Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook, and others — including Clatsop County Commissioner Lianne Thompson, whose district includes Jewell — have become involved, pushing the state for a resolution.

Thompson told KMUN on Friday evening that she is glad Evergreen Acres residents have water again, but there is more work to be done to ensure that the clean results they are seeing now continue.

“No, I’m not done,” Thompson said.

Last year, the state contacted Oregon’s Public Utility Commission, which regulates some of the state’s privately owned utilities for service and rates, about the situation in the Jewell neighborhood. Commission staff are investigating to see what might come under the commission’s authority at Evergreen Acres.

Modie did not have any updates on that investigation or the commission’s potential actions. He said the health authority, along with the county, “will continue to provide close oversight to this water system and assist the operator as needed.”

Sam and Jen Lynch, who now own the property where the Evergreen Acres water system and infrastructure are based, and other residents have been critical of Cavin’s operation of the water system. They have been skeptical of claims he has made about the system, the quality of the water and work he says he has done to maintain or enhance the system.

Earlier this month, residents told KMUN that Cavin shut off the water abruptly for several days to make repairs. After this, the county delivered six pallets of water for residents and a 500-gallon water trailer.

Evergreen Acres residents have submitted multiple complaints to the county and the state about the water system over the past year.

Jen Lynch told KMUN she is frustrated that it has taken so long to get accountability and action.

“That said, I’m thankful that this month we have drinkable water, but what’s going to happen next month?” she wondered. “There should be a clear path for county and state officials to keep our drinking water safe. People like me and many of my neighbors shouldn’t have to get involved to make this happen.”