Local News

Water crisis deepens in Jewell neighborhood

JEWELL, Ore. — A rural neighborhood on Oregon’s North Coast that has been living under a boil water notice for more than a year did not have any water at all for several days this week.

Residents said Tony Cavin, who operates the Evergreen Acres water system that provides drinking water to around 100 people, shut off the water Tuesday night. In a Facebook post published that same day, Cavin warned people he was going to turn the water off for repairs. Water returned late Thursday night, but  looked muddy.

Residents told KMUN the repairs were related to issues with a new line Cavin had been connecting into the water system several months ago.

Jay White, a longtime plumber who has lived in Evergreen Acres for 12 years, was critical of the steps Cavin was taking.

“There are 16 ways of doing something and there’s usually one or two you will not do because it’s really crazy. This is on that end of the scale,” White said. “It’s a situation waiting to happen and — of course — the other night, it blew.”

Cavin could not be reached for comment.

Jen Lynch, who grew up in Evergreen Acres and who is trying to take over operation of the water system with her husband, put out buckets to collect rainwater so she could flush her toilet while the water was out. Other neighbors did the same.

“Honestly,” she said Thursday afternoon, “I don’t know how people are getting by.”

Clatsop County workers delivered a pallet of bottled water to a church across the street from the neighborhood Thursday evening. Patty Jo Angelini, a spokesperson for the county, told KMUN on Thursday that county emergency management was working with the Oregon Department of Emergency Management to secure a potable water tank for the area.

“Clatsop County Environmental Health has been in daily communication with (Oregon Health Authority) and will continue doing so until clean water is available to Evergreen Acres customers,” Angelini wrote.

The Evergreen Acres system and Cavin came under state scrutiny after testing showed unsafe levels of bacteria in the water in 2022. A boil water notice has been in effect since the end of 2022.

After Cavin failed to address a number of issues identified in an administrative order issued by the Oregon Health Authority in February, the state followed up with a letter in August warning of possible fines.

Jen and Sam Lynch now own the property where the water system is located and hope to take over operations. But Cavin, who has not been in communication with county or state officials since early 2023, claims he still has rights to the water and the facilities related to the system. He has threatened the Lynches with legal action.

Questions about ownership
A spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority told KMUN in December that questions about ownership have hampered the state’s ability to intervene.

At the time, Lucas Marshall, environmental health supervisor for Clatsop County, echoed this challenge. Inspectors with the county’s environmental health division offer support and guidance to operators like Cavin and help ensure state regulations are being followed, but Marshall told KMUN the county is limited in what it can do.

The water issues unfolding at Evergreen Acres had gone unnoticed by elected officials until KMUN’s reporting in December.

Now Clatsop County Commissioner Lianne Thompson, whose district includes Jewell, said she is looking to improve channels of communication within the county, between staff and elected officials. As a county commissioner, Thompson said she has a different kind of access to state officials that could have been useful in navigating the situation at Evergreen Acres.

Upon learning on Thursday that residents had been without water for days, Thompson said, “I’m going to keep working on this every day until they get potable water.”

State Sen. Suzanne Weber has been in contact with Thompson about the issues in Jewell and also met with Evergreen Acres residents recently.

The Tillamook Republican said she is working at the state level to figure out how to address the community’s water quality problems. She has reached out to the state and the county, state Rep. Cyrus Javadi, a Tillamook Republican who represents the North Coast, and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici’s office. Bonamici, a Democrat, represents the North Coast in Congress.

“I know that the people in Jewell are very frustrated over this,” Weber said, “and I don’t blame them at all. This is horrendous. There’s nothing else I could say that can describe it.”

Weber said basic information about the water system still needs to be established and that people of various levels of government need to be involved to figure out how best to help Evergreen Acres.

But she anticipates pushing for new legislation for more accountability and oversight of small community water districts like Evergreen Acres.

“There’s no real complaint process that is in existence for these small districts,” Weber said. “And so where do you go? What is the chain of command? How do you address these issues? That’s something that has to be taken into consideration.”

Aging infrastructure
To Weber, the issue in the small, rural neighborhood points to larger concerns about aging infrastructure and complacency when it comes to delivering safe water to Oregon residents.

In Tillamook, Weber noted the county has experienced both drought and flooding in the past year.

Across Oregon, communities are dealing with various issues tied to water — specifically its lack and what happens when supplies are affected by contamination, development and climate change.

Political pressure has been mounting to change state water management, but, as Oregon Public Broadcasting has reported, Gov. Tina Kotek has struggled to find someone to take on the role of managing the state’s water supply as director of the Oregon Water Resources Department.