1928-2020, Year-by-year: How much did City charge mill for water?

Mill’s year-by-year water usage charges, 1928-2020

This chart: City-PTPC Water Lease, Yearly Rental 1928-2020 (rev. 07/2021) shows year-by-year from 1928-2020, how much the City charged Port Townsend Paper for full use of the Olympic Gravity Water System and unlimited, unmetered water. It is based on the four leases, 1928, 1944, 1956 and 1983, between the City of Port Townsend and the mill.

Scroll down on the chart and see that the mill has paid nothing to the City at least since 1986, and possibly much earlier.

Technically, the mill has never been charged specifically for water: the amounts paid are “rent”, which covers usage of all water infrastructure and unlimited water usage except for an amount reserved for use by the City for its customers. Technically, except in cases of poverty, it is also illegal for a municipality to give away its product — i.e., water.

Many years have zeros — no charges to the mill at all. Figures shown do not account for reductions granted to mill for mill’s share of maintenance, for interest the City may have accrued on bonds, etc. (i.e., they actually paid less).

It also appears that until 2017 when the new water treatment system came online, City taxpayers were covering the cost of filtering & chlorinating the water going to the mill.

Pipe Size gives perspective

After you’ve seen how much the City charged the mill for unlimited water use, this 1904-1928 water pipe comparison (shown in this post’s featured image) gives insight as to relative loads on the system.

6″ pipe (dark blue circle) = original OGWS pipe diameter as built by City in 1904

30″ pipe (brown circle) = diameter of pipe as expanded by City in 1928 (along with added sources and reservoirs) to accommodate mill.

The pipe is sized to provide approximately 20 million gallons per day*: a minimum of 14 mgd to the mill plus a maximum of 4 mgd to City customers, later increased to 5 million.** (sources: *2019 Port Townsend Water System Plan Update, p. 3-18, and **Lease Agreements.)

The mill has been averaging 14 million gallons per day for several decades (source 2014 City Water Conservation Plan and PTPC reports to EPA and Ecology), while all other customers have used about 1 million gallons per day.   

So non-mill users account for 1/20th of the current system’s design flow.


The mill’s water usage has never been metered, even though it was promised when the new water treatment facility and related re-piping was coming on board in 2017.

The mill’s usage is estimated as shown in the 2014 Port Townsend Water System Plan Update, Appendix B: “Mill use calculated by subtracting City master meter and LUD use from City Lake meter average”, although the document notes that the City Lake meter regularly fails to record data. The 2019 Water Plan Update says that new meters were installed in 2017 (p. 2-5), which allows the indirect metering to continue more consistently.

2019 City of Port Townsend Water System Plan and cityofpt.us/publicworks/page/water-resources


Maintenance is often cited as a reason for the mill to be exempted from paying comparable or proportional water rates. Around 2012, City officials roughly estimated the value of maintenance done by the mill at about $186,000 per year.

For argument’s sake, if the City has 5,000 other customers averaging $200/month (wild guesstimate) that would be $12 million/year for use of 1/10 as much water as the mill uses.

The leases seem to say:

Aside from any parts of the system used exclusively by the mill, City covers all “major repairs” and “normal wear-and-tear” on the entire system.

After that, only on whatever remains of that part of the system, a 29%/71% split between City and the mill is applied.

Source: 1928-1944-1956-1983 City-mill water usage leases

In conclusion

Ratepayers use 6% of what the water system was designed to deliver, while the mill uses about 93%. City (taxpayers) cover 100% of most of the water system maintenance; the mill is responsible for about 70% of whatever is left on the portion that they use after “normal wear-and-tear” and “major repairs”.

The mill has not had to make payments for water or system usage since at least 1987, and possibly since 1959 or earlier, as the City applies any of the mill’s expenditures on its maintenance obligations toward its rental payment obligations.

Through the leases, the City has made a pattern of forgiving even scheduled payments for water usage from the mill. It may have had justification, for instance, when the town had a population of 4,000-6,000 with perhaps 50% of the population working at the mill. However, now, in the last several decades, the ratio has become closer to 10,000 population with 280 workers at the mill, so the mill’s economic weight has changed significantly.

The mill uses at least 10x as much water as the rest of the town together, while paying nothing for the privilege. The burden falls on other businesses that do pay their share, regular ratepayers who pay a higher rate to accommodate, and taxpayers. The City continues to charge the dozen or so low income people every month whose water has been shut off, while the mill pays nothing. What would the rate structure look like if the mill were billed consonant with everybody else in town?

The past contracts frame the mill’s payments in terms of an annual rental and what looks to be nominal maintenance responsibilities, for full use of the system and unlimited water, whereas the rest of us are on various schedules with base rates plus monthly usage charges.

Questions of what kinds of diversity, what kinds of jobs we want to culture in our town need to be discussed and fully supported. But it is clear that, strictly in terms of the water contract, where much of the financial considerations took place for the mill’s role in the community, the balance has changed, become unbalanced, and needs to be revisited.

The terms of any new water contract with the mill should be structured so that rather than leaning on other area businesses, ratepayers and taxpayers, which for better or worse has been the case for at least the past several decades, the mill now should carry its own weight, as is expected of all other businesses in town.

In closing,

As of March 2020, the mill’s lease with the City for water & water system usage, which was due to expire on March 15, 2020, has been extended for 6 months. Through Fall of 2021, the City is engaging in public process while it reconfigures a new water usage-lease agreement.

City of Port Townsend/Engage PT/Water Supply-Mill Agreement

The mill has had a significant place in the history & economy of the City. Yet, over the life of the mill, the economy has changed, and roles have shifted such that financial relationships & relative burdens imposed between the City and the mill  have become lopsided.

The information presented here should assist in a clearer-eyed understanding of the existing water contract between the City and the mill, if not so that a contract may be written that is more fair and equitable to the City as well as all other ratepayers, then so that all of us can better understand the historic and changing relationship.

#olympicgravitywatersystem #porttownsendwa #porttownsend #PTPC #PortTownsendPaperCorp





  1. You're Ignorant?

    Opps, Covid 19. How are you going to get all your wasteful Amazon orders without recycled cardboard boxes? FYI, the paper mill is still in operation – ie “essential”.

    1. Post
      PT AirWatchers

      [Edited] You are looking at the big picture, which is important and we all should do. Yet, I’d frame it as a “yes-and”: I *don’t* think that people need to be already perfect in order to qualify to take action & I’m not going to judge what areas of a given individual’s life they can change or not; I do believe that people start with steps that they see, and actions in one area lead to awareness about other areas. So hopefully people’s work on concerns around the paper mill will lead them to examine their and our own patterns of consumption, distribution, packaging and disposal. The issues are systemic enough that those aren’t “one or the other” types of problems. I agree that everyone should be asking ourselves, ‘do I really need all of this stuff? What does “living well” mean, and does it depend on a constant flow of new “things” in my life?’ And as you hint, are there ways that I can arrange my life to reduce my dependency on packaging and all of the other pollution that goes with the way we run our lives right now. That is, can I get along with fewer cardboard boxes in my life?

      Continuing in your vein: Can we create packaging materials that are less polluting to produce and dispose of? Can we reduce packaging? Can I play a role?

      FINALLY, we don’t have to solve all of society’s problems before taking any action. You know that. We have a big old polluting paper mill here. It produces something that is going to be used for the foreseeable future, so it is likely to be around for a while.

      While we sort out our a cleaner, brighter future (that may or may not include cardboard), real-time pollution from the mill, wasteful water usage and taxpayers being asked to foot the bill for a good chunk of a private enterprise’s operations situations that we can and should resolve.

      This is not pro- or anti- mill or its product. The corporation should operate under the same standards as any other business enterprise in our area: don’t pollute, and pay your own way. Thank you for reading!

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