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Turn on the tap and open up about city's water issues

There are so many things in life that we take for granted here in West Linn — good schools, great parks, open spaces, fresh air and clean water. How desirable would the city be if the schools were failing, there were no parks or open spaces, the air was polluted and when you turned on the tap, nothing came out?

The West Linn water supply is at a crossroads. The system is old, the city doesn’t have the funds to address it and the residents have not been willing to ante up for repairs.

Upgrades to the system have been on three previous water master plans and have yet to see the light of day. Past administrators and elected officials have been placed at blame. Residents resoundingly defeated a November 2010 ballot.

In the 1990s, after a city council decided to significantly increase water rates, the community voted to cap rate increases to 5 percent. While this may protect residents from sudden tax hikes, it is like a pair of cement shoes for the city, which is barely keeping its head above water with revenues covering expenses.

Staff has been cut; corners have been trimmed to make do with less. The water level is creeping up over the city’s head.

The past is the past and we should learn from history. However, what really matters now is moving forward.

There are two major issues at stake and it is time for residents to learn how their city operates. The city’s water infrastructure is old, contains asbestos and water main breaks occur almost monthly, leaving homes without water for hours on end. The Bolton Reservoir, the hub of the water system, is 99 years old, has cracks and its cover is decaying. The reservoir is also placed on the edge of a steep slope, on top of an old landslide site and sits near three fault lines.

It is quickly becoming apparent that the city needs to stop putting bandages on its pipes and reservoirs. A tear in the reservoir cover recently cost $11,500 to repair. The city has dumped $26,000 in repairs to pipes so far this year. This is all money that is being poured down the drain.

However, selling water infrastructure and storage to residents is hard. City Councilor Mike Jones perhaps said it best, “Water isn’t sexy.”

People are apathetic to utilities, such as water, until there is a problem.

Well guess what, people, there’s a problem. The city will need $20 million to replace infrastructure and to build a new reservoir. How to fund it has been at debate. Should those who use the most water pay the most money through water rate increases? Or, should everyone share the same burden with general obligation bonds?

No decisions have been made yet. Now is the time to voice your opinion and weigh in on options.

Each household in West Linn should take the time to learn about the city’s water system — heck, students at Rosemont Ridge last year spent an entire session learning about the city’s water works — we could all take a lesson from them.

The city council, a citizen task force and the utility advisory board will meet in October and again in November to figure out the future of water in West Linn.

Now is the time to get involved, get informed and help shape the future of the city.

Everyone is entitled to their votes and their opinions, but it should be an informed decision.