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How much water will we need in the future?

Water use has declined across the country. In fact, conservation-centric values and more efficient fixtures and appliances have helped residential water use in many communities reach its lowest point in 50 years. On a per-capita basis, Newport residents have used less water in recent years, but total water consumption has steadily increased with the population.

Our connection to water is one of the strongest bonds holding Newport’s vibrant community together—residents and businesses rely on an abundant, safe water supply for industry, tourism, recreation, and day-to-day activities. The industries that contribute to Newport’s thriving economy and community are part of the reason water demand increased. From processing fish to brewing beer—water plays an essential role in these industries’ economic success.

Right now, Newport’s water supply operates on the edge. “Everything has to work perfectly, or we are in trouble—including the weather,” said Tim Gross, former Newport public works director. “We have just enough water during a typical summer to meet demand, but we can’t have a pump go down, or we’d have to curtail water delivery.” In many ways, Newport has outgrown its water supply.

We have just enough water during a typical summer to meet demand, but we can’t have a pump go down, or we’d have to curtail water delivery.”

To make problems worse, Newport relies on one source of water, which rests in the Big Creek Reservoirs. Today, the dams that keep the reservoirs in place are at risk and may not withstand even a minor earthquake. The risk to life, safety, and the economy is so great that the Governor’s Office lists Newport’s Big Creek Dams as “unsafe/potentially unsafe”. If the City does not act to save Newport’s water supply, state regulators will make the city lower the water level behind the dams. That would make the dams safer but poses the risk of the City rationing water supplies.

The City of Newport is working toward a solution: The Big Creek Dams Project (BCD), which will enlarge the upper Big Creek Reservoir and replace the dams with one that will sustain seismic activity. Estimated to cost as much as $123 million, BCD is the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken by the City. To date, Newport has secured $21 million and is pursuing an additional $35.5 million in grants and loans toward developing a solution that will save its water supply, make it earthquake resilient, and allow the City to store more water for future population growth and drought mitigation.

Conservation will be part of the solution too. “Conservation is important because it helps our residents take ownership of their water supply,” said Gross. The City already works hard to ensure that its operations and infrastructure are highly efficient because a main break can dump thousands of gallons of much-needed water onto the ground. “We squeeze everything we can out of our operations,” said Gross. In the future, Newport will join with others in the region to create a consortium of water producers to develop a regional conservation program aimed at helping residents and businesses learn more about their water supply and how valuable it is.