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Washington project protects lifeline

John HartFred Gerkensmeyer, water plant operator for the town of Washington's water district, crosses the walkway of the new pipeline structure alongside the Yuba River and above the town on Monday afternoon.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

For a town once voted to have the second-best tasting water in California, Washington residents probably take the liquid of life more seriously than others. They know what it’s like to go without.

Today, a years-long crusade to replace Washington’s 40-year-old cedar flume with a durable one to carry water from Canyon Creek to the town’s 150 residents comes to an end, with the completion of a new 1,300-foot, multi-section pipe.

It will bring water unimpeded in a gleaming network of ductile iron pipe, snaking through several hundred feet of pine and oak trees on the banks of the South Yuba River. The 8-inch-wide cylinder wouldn’t seem like such a big deal to most.



But in the town of Washington, residents are hailing this new pipe dream as the burg’s link to survival.

“It feels wonderful,” said Washington County Water District board member Lyla J. Tracy. “We all knew for a few years that when we turned the tap on, it might be the last time.”




The pipeline replaces one held up by a wooden flume along acres of Tahoe National Forest land. The wooden flume was once so old it had to be tied by steel cables to aging tree stumps, water plant operator Fred Gerkensmeyer said. The new structure will probably last forever, he said.

A $300,000 federal grant and $100,000 loan paid for the new pipe.

The Washington Water District will repay the loan with interest over the next 40 years.

“This is our lifeline, absolutely, I’m not joking,” Tracy said. Tracy’s father helped form the water district; his daughter remembers days when workers used pickaxes to bust up the icy water formed in an open flume during cold winter mornings.

Though it’s due to be finished today, Gerkensmeyer said the pipe’s been in use for a few months.

“This is the most modern thing in Nevada County,” said Gerkensmeyer of the project, which began in May. Gerkensmeyer has been in charge of the town’s water supply for more than a decade, and remembers cabling the pipeline to trees to keep it from falling into the river.

The new pipeline includes a steel catwalk, allowing hikers and visitors to view the river below.

It’s just water, after all, but Washington residents are glad it will flow freely, at least for the next 100 years, according to Gerkensmeyer.

“When the water goes out, that’s it,” said Toby Dixon Mason, sitting with friends across from the Washington Hotel. “… In (Grass Valley) if the water goes out, you guys are up in no time. Not us.”

“It needed to be updated,” resident Daniel Eaton. “I only wonder how they’re going to pay for it.”

Asked if he thought the stately pipeline would finally propel Washington into the 21st century, Gerkensmeyer shrugged.

“Gosh, I sure hope not.”


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