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June 21, 2021

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Washougal residents protest high water bills at city hall

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Dee McGrath of Washougal said her most recent water bill was about $500.
Dee McGrath of Washougal said her most recent water bill was about $500. (Jack Heffernan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

WASHOUGAL — A small group of people gathered outside Washougal City Hall on Tuesday afternoon to protest what several residents have described as skyrocketing water bills.

About a dozen people attended the protest, which was originally planned to take place outside the city’s Public Works Operations Center.

Dee McGrath and Lon Valkusch, who live on a fixed income with one other person, said their most recent water bill shot over $500. That’s about double what they normally pay.

The couple carried signs that questioned how single parents and those living on fixed incomes could pay such steep bills. Valkusch held one that compared the city’s water prices and median income to other local municipalities.

The average water rate in Washougal in 2019 was $35.51. Rates for other cities in the county were between $23 and $27, while Seattle had a $60 rate.

“There’s not many things that most people agree on,” Valkusch said. “But here in Washougal, everybody agrees on this.”

City officials have pointed to a normal increase in water usage during summer months, a rise in the number of people staying home due to COVID-19 and long-planned rate increases due to utility infrastructure needs.

Washougal Public Works Director Trevor Evers said Monday that the city had not levied any rate increases this year that were not previously planned.

Dave Ellis said that he’s lived in communities in five other states and that the water bills in the city are the highest he’s paid. Ellis, who travels for work, said he wasn’t buying the explanation having to do with the virus.

“Even taking that into consideration, it shouldn’t be that much,” Ellis said. “We just don’t want to feel like we’re getting screwed.”

Some demonstrators said that the bills may force them to eventually move to another city.

Mike Spies said that his most recent bill more than doubled as well.

Like other residents, he said the city has checked his home but hasn’t found any leaks. Also like other residents, he’s been dissatisfied with the city’s explanation.

“Nobody answered the questions. That’s why we’re here,” Spies said. “They’re blaming us.” 

Protesters expressed some disappointment with the turnout Tuesday. But they appeared willing to continue pressing the issue.

“There will be a next time,” McGrath said. “We’re going to continue to fight. We won’t just roll over.”