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Water discussions warm up at city hall

City explores March vote for water infrastructure


by: CITY OF WEST LINN - Workers conduct annual maintenance on the Bolton Reservoir. The facility is considered too small to handle current and future needs in West Linn.Once again, the city of West Linn is ramping up to address its aging water system. The city council, the utility advisory board and a citizen task force met Sept. 17 to explore funding options to replace water infrastructure and to rebuild the Bolton Reservoir.

At $10 million per project, the city is asking a lot of questions. Should both projects be put on the same ballot? If so, should there be one or two questions? Should only one project be put on the ballot? If so, which one? How should the projects be funded? Through rate increases or general obligation bonds?

A November 2010 ballot measure to restructure water rates based on usage to help pay for $21 million in infrastructure projects failed by a resounding 65 to 35 percent. Through an educational campaign, the city hopes to do better this time around.

This spring the UAB was pushing for the city to replace to Bolton Reservoir, seeing it as the biggest risk, but on Monday evening, members were second guessing the priority.

Situated on an ancient landslide, on a slope and tucked between three active fault lines, the Bolton Reservoir seems to be precariously placed. Add to that the age of the 2 million gallon water storage facility — 99 years old. Its cover is torn, there are cracks in the concrete, 500,000 gallons are unusable due to pipe placement and it is not nearly large enough to accommodate current needs as well as future growth in West Linn.

“Considering the age, capacity, configuration, inspection, repairs and ongoing operation and maintenance of the Bolton Reservoir, it is the recommendation of staff to replace the Bolton Reservoir with a 4 MG (million gallon) reservoir on the same site as described in the 2008 WMP (water master plan),” wrote the board to the city council in a June 18 memo.

This is not the first time the city has heard this message. The same recommendation has been listed in the 1999, 2004 and 2008 water master plans.

“The current condition of the reservoir endangers the citizens of West Linn and the city’s failure to take action will only increase costs. While the city’s water pipes are in dire condition, their failure does not jeopardize the health and safety of West Linn’s citizens in the same scale as the condition of the Bolton Reservoir,” stated the UAB. “Given the costs and risks arising from the condition of the Bolton Reservoir and many of the city’s water pipes, the UAB does not believe the city council should give a higher priority to any other city program.”

This summer the city hired Murray, Smith and Associates Inc. to conduct a complete analysis of the site, which is located at Skyline Drive and Skyline Circle. The Bolton Reservoir is considered the hub of the water system, capable of delivering water to any part of the city.

The existing reservoir was built in 1913. An interior liner was installed in 1989 and a cover was placed on the reservoir in 1995. According to the analysis, there is cracking in the concrete as well as chipping and the cover is near the end of its life. This summer, during maintenance, the cover was inflated so workers could work in the reservoir. Suddenly it ripped while workers were underneath it, causing it to deflate on top of them. No one was injured, but repairs cost $11,500.

The cover had 36 holes needing patching this year in addition to the large rip. Replacement could cost up to $150,000.

The study also found that 500,000 gallons of water in the reservoir are unusable based on the level of the reservoir floor and the outlet piping. Also, only 1 million gallons can by pumped from the reservoir and the remaining 1 million gallon must be gravity fed.

Water Superintendent Jim Whynot said most structures built today are designed to last 75 to 100 years, but he questioned if designers in 1913 meant for the Bolton Reservoir to last as long as it has.

Not only is the reservoir old, it can no longer handle West Linn’s water needs. According the master plan, the city should have enough stored water to last 24 hours in an emergency. Currently, the city has a total of 6 million gallons of stored water in five reservoirs, but during peak summer days, usage is at 7 to 8 million gallons. To meet current needs, the city needs a 2.8 million gallon reservoir.

It has been recommended the city double the size of Bolton Reservoir to 4 million gallons to accommodate build-out in West Linn. That size is linked to retaining the emergency water intertie with Lake Oswego. If Lake Oswego and Tigard are unsuccessful in expanding their water treatment plant, which is housed in the Robinwood neighborhood in West Linn, or if the cities do not renew the agreement, West Linn would need a reservoir of 8.2 million gallons, according to Whynot.

At an estimated cost of $8.8 million to build a 4 million gallon circular reservoir, if a March measure is placed on the ballot and approved, construction could last from October 2013 to late August 2016. During construction, the city would need to rely on either use of Lake Oswego’s emergency water intertie or through the use of water restrictions during peak times.

During Monday’s meeting UAB Chairman Raymond Kindley said based on the new information from the Bolton Reservoir engineering report a lot of assumption made regarding the site are outdated and further exploration would need to be done regarding the reservoir’s future.

“It’s just a long list of things,” he said. “Now is not the time to discuss funding of the Bolton Reservoir.”

However, he said, the UAB still wants the council to move forward with a rate increase to cover capital improvements to infrastructure. Frequent water main breaks and old pipes constantly need to be addressed in the city.

So far this year there have been eight water main breaks with an rough estimated cost of $26,000, according to Whynot.

Councilor Mike Jones also urged action to place a measure on the March ballot.

“If we don’t do something to improve the water system, we’re neglecting our children and their future,” he said.

Councilors Jody Carson and Jenni Tan agreed a March measure should be considered, with Teri Cummings questioning whether the city needs to be “doubling or quadrupling” the size of components of the water system.

The council, task force and UAB agreed to have members meet again in October to come up with a basic framework of what should be on the ballot and how it will be funded. Then the groups will reconvene in November to nail down the details.

The council would need to vote on a resolution by Dec. 10 to place a measure on the March ballot.