It's a sure sign of growth in Jefferson County. Water hookups are up dramatically over the past few years.
From 35 new water services installed by Deschutes Valley Water District in 2000, the total skyrocketed to 292 in 2006 -- an increase of more than 800 percent.
"The surge has been in the last three years," noted Edson Pugh, general manager for DVWD, which supplies water to about 4,100 water meters from Agency Plains on the north, south through Madras, Metolius and Culver, all the way to Haystack Reservoir and Juniper Butte.
"Six hundred meters in the last three years is a substantial growth," he added.
To handle all the growth and prepare for the future, the district is adding to its storage capacity with a 3-million-gallon water tank at its Metolius site.
The new tank is under construction alongside two older tanks -- a 1-million-gallon tank built in 1964, and a 1.5-million-gallon tank built in 1982 -- all located four miles south of Madras, on the east side of U.S. Highway 97.
In February, low-bidder T. Bailey Inc. of Anacortes, Wash., started work on the tank -- which will cost the district $956,876. It will be completed by the end of May.
Like the older tanks, the new 30-foot tall, 113-foot diameter tank is constructed from welded steel, which has a long lifespan in the high desert of Central Oregon. The district's oldest tank was built in the 1950s.
"We have good weather for water tanks," said Pugh, explaining that after the tanks are initially painted inside and out with a paint approved for drinking water tanks, they rarely need repainted because of the dry weather.
The purity of Opal Springs water also plays a role in preservation of the tanks. In the language of the water business, he said, "Our water is soft and nonaggressive, and we use cathodic protection."
In other words, the water doesn't have excessive levels of magnesium and calcium to make it hard, and the pH level of the water is slightly on the basic side -- not acidic or corrosive.
Soft water is considered superior for cleaning, because it leaves less mineral residue behind on skin, hair, dishes, clothes or other surfaces.
Cathodic protection involves hanging easily corrodible metal rods in the tank to prevent corrosion of the tank. As the "sacrificial anodes" corrode, they are replaced, and the tank is preserved.
The district's water originates from an underground aquifer that emerges from the ground at Opal Springs -- about 5 miles southwest of Culver -- at the bottom of the 850-foot deep Crooked River Canyon. The pure spring water flows at a rate of about 108,000 gallons per minute -- the same as when it was first tested in 1925.
"It's so good that bottling companies bottle it and we don't have to treat it," Pugh noted. "There are no manmade contaminants detected in our water."
From the springs, the water is pumped uphill to the main tanks -- two 1-million-gallon tanks and a 2.5-million-gallon tank -- located nearby. It flows downhill from there to the Metolius tanks.
Last year, the district started a massive, three-year project to upgrade to a 24-inch diameter transmission line. "With all the growth, the 14-inch and 20-inch existing lines aren't big enough," he said.
Because the district does most of its own work, three employees were added, bringing the district's total work force to 27 employees, including Pugh, who also serves as the district's engineer.
When the 12.75-mile pipeline project is complete, the 14-inch lines will be abandoned.
The transmission lines also supply the city of Madras -- which has a 1-million-gallon tank on South Adams Drive and serves 948 water meters -- and the prison under construction three miles east of Madras.
In preparation for the opening of the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution later this year, last year DVWD completed construction of a half-million-gallon water tank and a 14-inch water main to serve the facility. The tank is located on a hill just east of the prison.
"We've been serving them water for quite awhile now," Pugh said. "They had to have fire protection before they had buildable supplies on site." The minimum-security portion of the prison is expected to open in the fall.
Adding and replacing lines and water tanks is a constant process for the expanding district, which is supported primarily by revenue from the district's hydroelectric project at Opal Springs.
The 22-year-old project produces about 32 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year, which is sold to Pacific Power -- allowing the district to keep pace with growth while water costs remain low for water customers.
Once the district completes the new water tank and finishes enlarging the main transmission lines, Pugh anticipates that it may be time to increase storage capacity.
"Actually, we may be building another tank at the main tanks (at Opal Springs) in the next five years," he said. "It's totally dependent on growth. We could see another one at the same place (Metolius tanks) in the next 10 years."