The Town of Winthrop has adopted a measure that bans the drilling of new water wells within town limits, and prohibits resale of town water by local customers.
The action came after Public Works Supt. Jeff Sarvis raised the issue at a Town Council meeting several weeks ago. Sarvis said the town needs to protect its water source. Winthrop serves all the town’s water needs from a single well on White Avenue, which draws from an area approximating the town limits.
“Winthrop is the sole provider of water within its town limits or service boundary,” Sarvis said in an earlier memo. “The drilling of private wells, if allowed, could compete for the same water as the town relies on for our customers.”
At last week’s council meeting, Sarvis said the town could conceivably allow an exemption for a private well “if it provides a benefit beyond what town can provide.” Asked by council member William Kilby what circumstances might constitute justification for a new private well, Sarvis said “I can’t think of any.”
Existing private wells are not affected by the ban. The town sells water to private contractors and will continue to do that, but town water customers are prohibited from reselling water.
In other business, the council discussed complaints about whether the Winthrop Store is in compliance with the state’s COVID-19 protocols, which call for customers and staff to wear protective face masks. At one point the store had a sign on its front door stating that the mask requirement is not enforceable. That sign has since been removed.
A public records request to the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) turned up five complaints about the store that were filed with L&I between June 9 and July 8.
Mayor Sally Ranzau said that she had written to the store’s owners about compliance but had not heard back. “I don’t know what the problem is,” she said.
Councilmember Ben Nelson suggested that the town not spend any more money at the store until it is regarded to be in compliance. Ranzau said in an interview this week that the town more or less divides its gasoline purchases for town vehicles between the Winthrop Store and Pardners Mini Market. She said that the arrangement is likely to continue. “It benefits all of us,” the mayor said.
She said the town isn’t in a position to press enforcement, which is the purview of L&I and Okanogan County Public health. Ranzau said she had contacted the county health department but had no response as yet. She said it is up to each customer to decide whether they want to do business with the store or not.
The store’s owners, Keith and Patsy Rowland, had not responded to a request for comment by press time on Tuesday (Sept. 22).
The council also discussed whether the town should ban campfires at private campgrounds within town limits, in view of seasonal fire hazards and air quality issues because of smoke. The town currently doesn’t have any restrictions.
Winthrop is now part of Okanogan County Fire District 6, but the district apparently can’t enforce a campfire ban unless the town formally adopts one, Ranzau said.
Councilmember Bill McAdow, who is a District 6 volunteer firefighter, said the district would likely support a town ban.
Nelson asked that the council continue discussing the issue, and consider a code amendment to ban campfires. “If we ever needed it because of circumstances, this year would qualify,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t make sense that we would continue to allow it.”
The topic will be discussed at the council’s Oct. 7 meeting.