Newberry water reservoir OK after vandalism

The taps are back on at Klahowya Secondary School.

They were shut off Thursday, Nov. 29, after a break-in at the reservoir site that provides water to the school. The lack of water meant a day off for Klahowya’s 1,000 students on Friday, Nov. 30.

"Because it was a single school, it’s not likely the students will have to make the day up," Central Kitsap School District spokesperson Jeanie Schulze said Monday. "We’re going to have to check on that with the state."

The state Department of Health conducted tests to determine if the Newberry Hill Road site had been contaminated. The tests found the water clean and safe to drink.

"This is outstanding," said Mike Koepke, utility operations manager for Kitsap Public Utilities District No. 1, when he learned of the test results. "It would’ve taken several days to empty the tank out and then refill it, which is more than a million gallons of water."

The utilities district operates the reservoir site.

Koepke said locks were broken off the gate and an access hatch leading to the top of the 749,000-gallon storage tank, which provides drinking water and fire suppression for the school and Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s nearby Fire Station 56. No residential customers were affected by the closure.

According to Koepke, a PUD employee discovered the break-in 10 a.m. Nov. 29.

Further investigation revealed a yogurt container and several coins on the top of the tank. A vent screen on top of the reservoir had been damaged enough to allow access to the inside of the tank.

The PUD notified the state Department of Health, local health authorities and customers served by the water system.

"The water system and the school district acted quickly to make sure the students have access to safe and clean drinking water," said Gregg Grunenfelder, director of the drinking water division of the state Department of Health. "This shows the system worked. Utilities are doing a good job keeping a close eye on their water systems."

The tank was isolated from the rest of the water system at 11:45 a.m. By noon samples were taken from the storage tank, the school and the fire-suppression system.

Once the test results were received from Water Management Labs in Tacoma, Koepke said the system was reconfigured to its normal operation mode and the tank was refilled.

"It appears it was a case of vandalism," Koepke said. "But it is better to err on the side of caution."

He added that additional security measures have been taken to make access to the top of the reservoirs more difficult.

PUD sites have been the targets of vandalism in the past, "but this is the first time someone has accessed one of the larger reservoirs," Koepke said.

Schulze said the school district provided bottled water to staff who worked Friday. The county Sheriff’s Department is investigating the incident.

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