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economic justice | neighborhood news

City of St Helens Fleeces Poor, Working Class Residents

For those who do not know St Helens, it's a beautiful, old-fashioned village out here along the rolling Columbia river. It's a working class community with a sense of the funky, where rural folks come together and create a vibrant, living culture of their own. Full of artists, anarchists, and working people who live together in harmony, it seems like the perfect place. That is, until the Water Wars began. Now, it's getting harder to make ends meet here. And nobody seems to care.
I got my water bill in the mail yesterday, and it seems to have ballooned beyond all control. I mean, a year or so ago they built a new filtration system out here so I knew the rates would be increasing. Sure enough, it went from a comfortably affordable amount to just almost not quite affordable. But like I said, I understood the reason why. The city was providing a needed service -- cleaner water -- and I was willing to pay for it.

The problem, though, slowly became apparent after subsequent bills. After the initial jolt, which saw me paying roughly 15% more on my bill, the bill after that showed an even higher amount. I have done everything I can think of to save water because I believe in protecting this precious resource. I don't water any grass or wash my car, or let my toilet run. I don't let the water run when I brush my teeth, I have airators on my faucets, and I just don't waste anything. But even so, my bill kept increasing. Every time it arrived, it was more than it had ever been before. And city hall had no explanation for it.

This month, it's even more still! It's nearly 40% more than it was a few years ago. I can't figure it out, and I can't afford to pay it anymore. I just can't. When I called city hall, they told me that the rates haven't gone up again "yet," but that they are slated to increase on the next bill. What? Yes, they said. By 20%. A 20% increase! Just like that??? What on earth.

It's very hard for me to discuss this with the kind person at the other end of the telephone, because as I said, this is a small, close-knit community and I know she is just one of my neighbors. I know it's not her fault. But...whose fault is it? How can this be? She told me that they did some studies awhile back, and found that our water and sewer rates are lower than a lot of other communities, so they figure they can just jack them up like this.

Really? What makes them think so? Because maybe our rates have been lower, but so have our incomes. And frankly, if they are not improving services somehow, they have a LOT of nerve just jacking up rates by a freaking 20%, out of the blue. I do not care what their "studies" have said. The fact is, there are real people out here, with tight budets. (Yes, she said. She doesn't know how she will make ends meet either.) Well that's just it. There is no wiggle room left in my budget. There's simply no way for me to pull more money out of the air just to pay for the same service I have always been receiving. I just can't do it. What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to do without water? This is just wrong. And I know I am not alone in this. Unemplyment is staggeringly high out here. Many, many families are subsisting on food stamps and unemployment compensation and the school lunch program. Still others are working crappy part-time jobs, or full time jobs that don't begin to pay all the bills, or two jobs that barely pay them but can't possibly absorb another 20% on any utility bill. What are we supposed to do?

It is possble that a person from Portland, or some other community might find our rates low, might wonder what my problem is. But now imagine that one of your utility bills, one you cannot do without, suddenly increases by 40%, and you learn that it's about to go up by another 20%. Can you afford that? Me neither. Personally, I think that since Boise Cascade is one of the major reasons why our water needs so much filtration out here, they should be picking up the tab for any increases. Why not make the polluter pay for it? Why try to squeeze more from the working class members of the community, who cannot do without water and cannot afford to pay so much more? What can be done? Is there anyone else out there who is running into this problem? I just don't know what to do. My neighbor, whose computer I am using, suggested I talk about this here because maybe someone might have an idea about what can be done.

A well staged Public Protest? Crank up that Water Pressure? 25.Aug.2006 17:23

Joe Anybody & Ben Waiting



I hope to hear more from you on this debacle as it continues

Maybe there is some utilities meeting, city hall, etc that can shed some explanations, or is an avenue for change or modification?

I really don't know ...but I hear ya! LOUD and CLEAR!

It's a travisity......I'd hate to think ....it could/will get worse

Organize - Communication ....then in solidarity TAKE ACTION

Good Luck ...keep us posted.....dig deeper into this sink hole of Corruption

I wish I had a better answer to the EXCELLENT questions and your EXCELLENT points

I wonder if, as in Portland, there might be some type of group<s>that are trying to help people on limited incomes or low incomes ..."keep there water paid and running"
In Portland last year the Salvation Army was helping in this way ....but only to "property owners"

Maybe some thing along those lines (grants, funding, etc)that needs to be established in St Helen's that could be funded from some grass roots organizing and or by getting big city Corporate Business's helping to offset this water-rip-off by creating a fund or by appointing an advocacy-citizens group to work on collecting and distributing to those who need some relief help.

I wish the best ...please keep posting......
I have been waiting for justice and fair-ity and .....still am waiting .....where is the HOPE?

The hope is in unity and solidarity ....the hope is the "people rising up and saying enough is enough!"

Maybe you have a broken waterpipe? 25.Aug.2006 20:01

vote with Yer pocketbook

Perhaps the reason why your water bill is so high is because your main water supply pipe is broken! The City of St. Helens may even inspect it for free. If no person in an offical capacity can explain why your bill has increased so rapidly, it might be because you're dumping hundreds or maybe thousands of gallons of water into the soil.

Get A Grip 25.Aug.2006 20:42

ustaf melati gucci

Open a brew pub the city will give you water for free

The point 26.Aug.2006 06:44

Don Letithapan

The point Joe makes, and makes well, is that NOBODY should expect, or receive, TWENTY freaking per cent in a single pay raise. It is also very true that the one that caused the need for the "improvement" in the water system should be the one who pays. Finally, State and Federal loans and grants more than likely covered the costs of the "improvements," which will/should be repayed at really low rates over at least as many years as it took to create the crisis.

A leak is of course, a great possibility to explain part of Joe's problem, but the twenty per cent raise is the frosting on the cake.

It may not be the city 26.Aug.2006 07:22

Check water district

Several years ago in Oregon City (I am sure it is the same in many towns), the water districts (there were more than one) all decided it was time to update the infrastructure which was last upgraded back in the late eighteen hundreds. They sought, and received grants and low interest loans from the federal and state government, and proceeded to do the work, much of which continues to this date. The repurcussions were that everyone's bills doubled overnight, and threatenned to go even higher. There was a complete change in the elected city official-dumb as a result(at least two of the candidates were elected on this one issue), but the upshot was that the rates continue to rise. As a non resident, I stopped following all of the gory outfall. I am pretty sure that there are a couple of residents that can fill in the blanks.

All that I really know is that the idiots that were elected to replace the idiots that were percieved to have gotten the city into the mess proceeded to make an even bigger mess. Be sure to go after the ones who really are causeing the problem, if you can.

My Water Bill TOO 26.Aug.2006 08:09

St Helens Neighbor

My bill has done the exact same thing, and I'm really steamed about it. I actually checked for a leak first, before getting mad. I turned every last drop off and checked my meter, to see if water could be leaking somewhere. No. There was not a jiggle on the meter. It's their rates, not a leak. This really sucks.

I did not realize there was going to be ANOTHER increase, and a TWENTY PERCENT one at that! No WAY. I won't pay it. I live near the Columbia river. Surely we can figure out a way to get water without having to pay for this extortion.

start a petition 26.Aug.2006 10:16

in your city

or hold a public meeting at a park or library to gather signatures
outline the problem and the notifications (if any) you were sent regarding the increases

then go to your state's UTILITY COMMISSION
it's the governing body
it is possible they are in violation, but unless you or others take action and file formal complaints (you could even copy complaint forms to distribute at your meeting or walk door to door) nothing will be done except another high bill in your mailbox

flushing with collected water 26.Aug.2006 15:19


hi -- my house was just talkin' about flushin' with collected rainwater. bringing in 5 gallon buckets is one way, but sloppy. disconnecting the handsink pipe and collecting that is a bit stinky but do-able if you limit the personal soaps and such to herbal products. ideally we could all spend a bit for a collection system which can pipe straight into our houses. if you collect from the gutter, be sure that there is a big overflow collection which prevents runoff from going into your basement.

maybe your city wants to do a boycott of something -- maybe buying paper products. i'm sure folks can find 1-sided paper in recycle bins at their schools and workplaces, enough to use for letter-writing and whatknought. i've done 5 years of college without ever buying paper. and, maybe a campaign staged outside of stores that sell paper products with info sheets about what's up. and, a letter asking that stinky corporation to help with water costs.

i've had enough of logging on public lands. that's what paper companies support. would the gptaskforce want to help with your campaign?

Wait! 26.Aug.2006 16:16

concerned oregonian

You really don't want to come into regular contact with columbia river water. It is extremely radioactive(among lots of other serious polutants from Canada and Hanford). Perhaps try rain collection instead.

me too 26.Aug.2006 18:28

st helens person

You know, I collect the rainwater from my downspouts and use that to water the garden. I conserve water in the house, and do not use any outside. So this recent increase was very hard for me because there was no way for me to decrease my water useage to save money. I did not realize they were planning to increase it again! And by 20%??? Who ever heard of such a thing.

I don't know what to do. There's no way I can come up with that kind of money, just because some study told them they could get more from us. Sure, they can try. Like Bechtel tried in Cochabamba. Greedy humans try to use something that is a necessity like this, but we're funny about that. When someone tries to deny us access to a resource provided by nature and necessary for life, we tend to FIGHT BACK. Is that what they want? Because I will.

Listen, I agree that the people at city hall are our neighbors, and are mostly really nice people. But I'm not sitting back and letting them do this. I don't know how to fight this yet, but we should all talk as a community and figure out a plan. This is not acceptable.

Rainbarrels - Organize - And Accountability 27.Aug.2006 00:17

Joe Anybody

Can the Water District actually justify their prices?
Can you see "the books"? Is there accountability?

Can large numbers of people make change?
Can organizing against injustice succeed in changing anything?

I wonder what powerful institutions and corporations
would do if no one co-operated, resisted, or boycotted?
Try making this a city issue and get fellow residents to join in
Maybe the topic would be - "Affordable Water"

Check out this pdf file on Raincatchers:

And look what this city was doing in Washington to help residents offset some of the H2o costs

Here at this site they are selling Rainbarrels for for $89.oo for the 50 gallon size:

Amazon has the $120.oo one that are a 54 gallon size:

Wanna pay more ....its bigger- in fact it is 75 gallons!
 link to www.gardeners.com

How about a Solar Toilet?
Now that will save on your bill every time you flush..no money to the city

Here is a two website that sell them ...to bad they cost around a thousand dollars.

I know these are expensive and not so practical ...but get ting further away from the Water District may provide you better livability, sustainability and save you money as well as saving natural resources...

X them out of the equation over the long run and encourage fellow towns folk to do the same as well.

Here is what a www.gov site is saying to do to "Conserve Water":
And the Tennessee state site show the usual tips here:

Last but not least "How to get water from the air":

They are building a new water treatment plant 27.Aug.2006 16:59

Two seconds on google

The city's water rates are listed on this website:  http://www.ci.st-helens.or.us/ (click "Public Works" then "Water & Sewer Rates Increase!"). There's a good bit of info on why they are increasing rates. Necessary or not, they are being rather upfront about what they are doing.

There are also numbers and emails of people to contact. They work for you, remember ?

Conservative Concurs 16.Mar.2007 11:13

Winston Was Right!

In a land bearing less & less resemblance to the Country into which I was born, there is less & less understanding of the terms; "Conservative", and, "Liberal". In light of that, some may expect a "Conservative" would be on the side of the political brotherhood that substitutes for Tammany Hall here in ColCo; not so! Not THIS Conservative. My understanding of the "C word" has more in common with Tom Jefferson than Tom DeLay. TJ once said he thought the way to keep our experiment (in self governance) robust was to have a revolution every 20 or so years. In ColCo, we're LONG overdue.

The problem of water is but an indicator (albeit an important one) of how deep the rot that infects our local governmental systems. EVERY DAY more and more farm land becomes residential lots; more and more homes are built; more and more people move in, necessitating more and more INFRASTRUCTURE for which the working middle class is more and more responsible. Then WHY are we so strapped for $ to TCB?
And WHERE IS ALL THE $ being pocketed by developers???

In other areas, DEVELOPERS are FORCED through various fee schedules to shoulder their fair share of revamping and rebuilding crumbling and/or overwhelmed infrastructure systems (water, sewer, roads, SCHOOLS, etc.) But here in ColCo???

Joe's "on the money" with his observation. We're being sucked DRY. It's time we take a page from the film, "NETWORK", and shout from our windows, "We're mad as Hell, and we're not gonna take it anymore!" THEN, vote the rascals out and find ourselves some justice the old fashioned way, get involved!