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Clean Water Services water treatment lauded

Three plants receive highest Platinum Award

As it awaits its new state permit, the agency responsible for wastewater treatment in most of Washington County has won national recognition for performance at its four plants.

The Clean Water Services plants in Forest Grove, Hillsboro and Rock Creek have won the highest awards from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. Platinum Peak Performance Awards are given only to plants with violation-free records for five consecutive years or more.

For Rock Creek, it’s 11 years; for Forest Grove, 13 years, and for Hillsboro, 17 years.

The plant in Durham received a gold award for one year of violation-free compliance.

Together, the four plants treat 65 million gallons of used water every day — mostly from Washington County and its 12 cities, but also small parts of Multnomah and Clackamas counties, and Portland and Lake Oswego. The treated wastewater is released into the Tualatin River.

“It’s not something people think about every day,” said Bill Gaffi, the agency’s general manager since 1994.

The agency serves more than 500,000 people.

Member agencies of the national association represent more than 3,000 of the 16,000 publicly owned wastewater treatment plants operating in the nation.

The local presentation of awards occurred at a Dec. 1 meeting of Washington County commissioners, who double as the governing board of the agency. But the agency is separate from county government and receives funding from the sewage treatment rates charged by cities and other sources.

Voters formed the agency in 1970, when they also approved what was then the largest local bond issue in Oregon history to consolidate a network of more than two dozen plants, many of them failing to meet pollution control standards. That situation led to a moratorium on new construction back in 1969.

It took on its present name in 2001, after starting as the Unified Sewerage Agency.

Once considered among Oregon’s dirtiest systems, the Tualatin River has been cleaned up considerably through the standards set by the permits for the treatment plants.

“We, of course, enjoy getting these awards,” said Nate Cullen, director of the agency’s wastewater treatment department. “But our real reward is knowing that the good work we do every day protects the public’s health and helps keep the Tualatin healthy.”

The agency’s new permit is awaiting approval by the state Department of Environmental Quality, which administers permits under the federal Clean Water Act of 1972. The public comment period just closed, and DEQ is expected to issue the permit with conditions early next year.

The agency is operating on a permit first issued in 2005, and extended by administrative action in 2009. Most permits are good for five years.

The 2005 permit consolidated several previously in effect for the four plants and allowed consideration of their treated wastewater for the entire Tualatin River watershed.

The pending permit proposes to tighten limits on acidity, minimize mercury, and control the heat loads of discharged wastewater. It also would allow 12-month discharges from the Forest Grove plant, instead of its current six months, that would be filtered by 95 acres of wetlands to be activated by 2017.

The new permit also would require the agency to prepare plans for use of recycled water and highly purified water. The agency has called public attention to the latter in 2014 and this year with beer-brewing contests making use of that water.

The agency produces about 100 million gallons annually available for reuse, but officials acknowledge it’s a fraction of the total treated by the four plants.