Work to improve Lake Oswego's sewer problems began this week on the west end of Oswego Lake, a fix that won't curb overflows from the city's ailing sewer system but will reduce some sewage leaks in the canals and the West Bay area.

The $290,000 project aims to clean deposits in pipes on the west side of the lake, eliminating obstructions that have in part caused waste to overflow.

The work will result in increased activity and noise into October. West Bay lines are scheduled for cleaning through Sept. 15, Oswego Canal lines Sept. 18 to 22 and Blue Heron Canal Sept. 25 to 29. Main Lake lines, east and west ends, will be cleaned Oct. 2 to 6.

Homeowners in those areas may be contacted for access to sewers by construction crews. The work is not expected to affect household plumbing or the Lake Grove Swim Park, where the project is being staged, because the swim park is closed for the season. Cleaning of sewer pipes is expected to partially reduce sewage overflows in the canals, according to Joel Komarek, engineer for the city of Lake Oswego. A plan to increase sewer capacity overall is still in the exploration phase. The city is currently probing designs for replacement of its in-water sewage interceptor - essentially the backbone of the city's sewer system. Designs are expected in January.

Meanwhile, the pipeline, which is more than 20,000 feet long and carries sewage from the west end of Oswego Lake through the water to a sewage treatment facility in the Foothills area, has seen problems.

Last winter, 97,000 gallons of untreated sewage overflowed the system onto Lake Oswego streets. The waste was subsequently flushed into Oswego Lake by heavy rains. Problem areas included Cardinal Drive, Kelok Road, Bryant Road, Allen Road and Foothills Road.

City officials have said rain was mostly responsible for the overflows because excessive groundwater infiltrated sewer lines. Though Lake Oswego could rehabilitate old sewer pipes around the interceptor to fix the problem, the city's chief plan is to replace it because the project is in some ways simpler and the pipe is vulnerable in an earthquake. Replacement of the sewer interceptor has been in the works since 1999.

Costs to replace the pipe are currently estimated at $65 million. The city is probing alternate designs to curb that fiscal impact. Construction on any project is still five or six years away.

In the interim, Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality has charged Lake Oswego with the highest class of violations for discharging sewage into non-permitted areas. Discharge of untreated sewage to a water body violates the federal Clean Water Act and is punishable by fines, which are still pending in this case.

DEQ has pushed Lake Oswego to address its sewer problem since 1996 and also sanctioned the city for overflows to Oswego Lake and the Willamette River in 1998 and again in 2001. Those penalties were reduced in exchange for design work on the interceptor.

It is unclear whether DEQ will pursue fines for sewage leaks last winter or again waive the fees as work on sewer repairs continues.

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