The owner of the Rose Lodge Water Company is facing $2,700 in civil penalties from the state's drinking water watchdog, which claims she has failed to bring her operation into compliance with Oregon law.
The state's Drinking Water Program (DWP) says the company made no attempt to comply with an Aug. 6, 2009, order to submit legally required water samples showing surface water quality and levels of volatile organic chemicals and disinfection byproducts.
The DWP says the company also failed to have a certified operator in direct responsible charge of the system as required by state law.
Company owner Bette Carter, of Otis, indicated she would not appeal the penalties, saying they did not come as much of a surprise.
"Bureaucracies are interested in growing," she said, "and adopting all the rules and regulations that they can possibly get through because they want to perpetuate themselves. And the state Drinking Water Program is a bureaucracy, just like everything else."
Carter said the DWP enforces water quality rules crafted by "a bunch of congressmen back in [Washington] DC that really don't know about clean water."
Dave Leland, DWP program manager, said Oregon is one of 49 states that enforces its own safe drinking water laws, closely modeled on the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
In Wyoming, the EPA directly administers the federal law in the absence of a state counterpart.
"Our goal in this is safe water for everyone," he said.
All of the penalties relate to the Boulder Creek water system, which serves customers along Boulder Creek Drive, Slick Rock Creek Road and Newbridge Road, and is one of two systems that operate under the umbrella of the Rose Lodge Water Company.
The other, the Bear Creek water system, serves customers along Bear Creek Road, Deer Lane and Deer Drive.
Together, the systems provide water to about 247 customers.
Leland said the DWP is also keeping an eye on Carter's progress toward meeting the conditions of an administrative order requiring her to bring the Bear Creek system up to state standards.
"We don't just put out pieces of paper," he said. "We are tracking these things."
A DWP investigation last year found that both systems had been providing customers with unfiltered water from local creeks, in violation of state law.
The agency has ordered Carter to construct new water filtration equipment on both systems.
Carter said she has submitted plans for new filtration systems and is waiting to receive approval from the DWP.
Carter said she is not responsible for the systems' problems, laying the blame on what she said were improperly engineered upgrades about three years ago.
"It isn't my fault this mess is in here," she said.
In a separate development, Carter has agreed to transfer control of her third water system, the Salmon River Water Company, to a neighboring water district after customer complaints about erratic billing.
The Panther Creek Water District mailed a notice to the Salmon River system's 51 customers in June, informing them that it will now be responsible for their water supply.
"It's like moving from the 19th Century to the 21st Century overnight with regards to service," Salmon River customer Thomas Gravon said.
Gravon said he and other customers complained to the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) about the erratic bills and that some began withholding payment until the issue was resolved.
Kathy Miller, senior water utility analyst with the PUC, said the agency advised customers to keep paying their bills even after its investigation revealed the billing problem was serious.
"It's really hard for the customers when the billing gets so off that you have no idea how much you owe," she said. "It was a big problem."
Miller said the PUC started getting complaints about the company's billing in the first half of 2009 and, after working with Carter to try and resolve the problem, advised that she hire a bookkeeper to sort out the scrambled accounts.
Eventually, she said, Carter proposed transferring control to the Panther Creek Water District, a move the PUC supported.
Back at the DWP, Dave Leland said the transfer makes sense because the Salmon River system receives all its treated water from the Panther Creek system anyway.
He said the DWP issued an administrative order on the Salmon River system due to Carter's failure to provide legally required water samples in 2008 and 2009.
"Panther Creek taking over the Salmon River area solves all those problems," he said, "because Panther Creek will be doing the monitoring."
Carter said she is happy to see Panther Creek take responsibility for the Salmon River system.
"I never really made enough money on that to pay for it," she said.