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Oregon Association of Clean Water Agencies awards its 'Outstanding' agency honor to City of Prineville

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - The Crooked River Wetlands opened on Earth Day, April 22, and boasts numerous information kiosks, several miles of trails as well as an answer to wastewater capacity issues.

Prineville's Public Works Department has been recognized as a "Utility of the Future" for its integrated approach to managing wastewater through beneficial reuse combined with the creation and restoration of wetlands, floodplains, riparian areas and public recreation.

In an annual gathering of the Oregon Association of Clean Water Agencies (ORACWA) in Bend last month, the city of Prineville, along with Public Works Director Eric Klann, were honored with the "Outstanding Agency" award for its Crooked River Wetlands project, an innovative and environmentally friendly approach to wastewater treatment designed to better meet the needs of the city's growing population today and for generations to come.

Covering 120 acres adjacent to Northwest Rimrock Way, the Crooked River Wetlands utilizes the natural environment, enabling the city to substantially reduce its costs, stabilize future utility rates and support a thriving local economy, while also protecting water quality and a healthy watershed.

The project "reflects strong leadership and is an outstanding example to other member agencies to learn from as we address increasingly complex water quality challenges," the ORACWA announced at its annual conference.

Prineville's former wastewater system began operation in 1960, when the city's population was just 3,200. With nearly three times that many residents today, the system required an upgrade.

Along with installation of new sewer main lines, an upgraded pump station, and improvements to the existing lagoon aeration system, the project — unveiled this past April — included the addition of 120 acres of wetlands. This increases the plant's capacity and eliminates the need to discharge treated wastewater directly into the Crooked River, improving water quality and benefiting numerous species of fish and wildlife. Further, the wetlands features more than five miles of new hiking trails, more than half of which are paved for year-round use.

According to the ORACWA award, at a cost of $7.7 million, Prineville "now has a community and environmental asset — not just a wastewater treatment plant. Had Prineville opted for a traditional sewage treatment plan, the estimated cost would have been closer to $62 million." The city received over $3 million in grants to offset the total cost.

"Though the cost savings of this project made it an obvious choice, it still required big-picture vision and a departure from 'business-as-usual' thinking," said Steve Forrester, Prineville's city manager. "The Crooked River Wetlands stabilized sewage rates, created a new public hiking trail system and will improve the overall health of the Crooked River — a great example of the city's commitment to being innovative, progressive and fiscally responsible."

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