The Skagit Public Utility District showcased how it collects, filters and treats drinking water at its Judy Reservoir facility Wednesday during a tour held as part of Drinking Water Week.

The Skagit PUD has served county water users for 83 years, and it has provided that water from Judy Reservoir for 72 years.

During those decades, a lot has changed in the way water is treated and dispersed to homes and businesses — and the recent tour highlighted some of those changes.

Drinking Water Week is an American Water Works Association program that water utilities across the nation participate in each May.

This year, the state Department of Health recognized Skagit PUD’s Emilia Blake and the city of Anacortes during Drinking Water Week. Blake received the state’s Commitment to Excellence award and Anacortes received the Most Innovative award, bringing two of seven state awards to Skagit County.

“We recognize individual water systems and operators that do an outstanding job providing safe and reliable drinking water to their customers,” Department of Health said in a release about the awards.

Anacortes received the award for its installation of fiber optic cable in 15 miles of its water lines.

Blake received the award for running the lab at Skagit PUD “at an exemplary level,” as well as taking on extra research to enhance water treatment and prevent water quality issues with the PUD’s reservoir.

Skagit PUD Community Relations Manager Kevin Tate said Blake’s recognition is also exciting since she is one of a few women in the water industry.

Blake’s days are busy with water samples coming from various points throughout the Skagit PUD’s service area, for a total of 80 water samples collected each month.

During Wednesday’s tours, Blake welcomed several dozen community members to her lab and showed them what she sees in the samples under microscopes.

Beneath microscopes, Blake showed different critters that can be found in the water, including circular bacteria, rice-shaped algae and a water flea squirming around like a tiny shrimp.

“As a microbiologist (by training) I like to find bugs, but for the most part we don’t find them here,” she said.

Eight million gallons of water from the Judy Reservoir southeast of Sedro-Woolley eventually makes its way each day to taps throughout the county.

Tate said the Skagit PUD has a network of 650 miles of pipes that serve about 70,000 residents.

When the reservoir was created, the Skagit PUD initially provided unfiltered, chlorinated water to its customers, treatment plant lead operator Gary Tollefson said.

Tollefson said the water that comes to Judy Reservoir from four Cultus Mountain streams as well as the Skagit River now goes through many levels of filtration, from a string of logs on the water’s surface meant to trap feathers, to a series of swirling holding tanks and finally the use of chlorine gas as a disinfectant.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199,, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH,

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