Deal with Tigard is in the works

Lake Oswego water users will have a final say on a joint water utility with Tigard.

A final public hearing on the idea will be held during a meeting of the Lake Oswego City Council Tuesday. The council is expected to vote on the agreement that same night and city staff is recommending councilors go forward with the plan.

Leaders from both cities informally agreed to the partnership April 15, which would expand Lake Oswego's existing water utility to accommodate Tigard customers. Tigard would become part owner of the utility in the exchange.

Lake Oswego currently owns its own water utility. The city gets its water from the Clackamas River and supplies more than 37,000 customers, including wholesale water customers like Tigard and Portland and the Lake Grove, Glenmorrie and Skylands water districts.

Lake Oswego's water demands are on track to exceed the carrying capacity of the utility in 2009, however.

That's partly because Lake Oswegans use dozens of gallons more water per capita than their neighbors. Owing to the city's large lots and the number of water fixtures in local homes, water usage in the city is high. The water utility also needs costly maintenance upgrades.

By partnering with the city of Tigard, Lake Oswego officials say they can reduce the amount of money local ratepayers would pay to upgrade the utility.

According to Joel Komarek, the lead engineer on the water utility expansion for Lake Oswego, the water utility needs $78 million in upgrades in the next 10 years without adding service to Tigard customers.

While adding Tigard customers to its service area boosts costs for utility upgrades to $135 million, Tigard ratepayers would shoulder a greater burden of costs if a partnership takes hold.

The arrangement would require Tigard ratepayers to fund $82 million in upgrades, reducing the amount paid by Lake Oswego ratepayers from $78 to $53 million, according to Komarek.

In the exchange, Tigard water users would get ownership rights in a water utility, giving officials there the power to control the city's water rates for the first time.

Tigard currently purchases its water at wholesale rates from other cities. The city buys about 90 percent of its water from Portland, which is predominately fed by the Bull Run River. Expensive habitat restoration projects planned for the Bull Run watershed are anticipated to drive up wholesale water rates.

While both communities would jointly own the utility - called the Lake Oswego Expansion and Water Partnership - Lake Oswego would retain ownership of its water rights on the Clackamas River.

The Tigard City Council will formally agree to the partnership in a signing ceremony Wednesday. The Lake Oswego City Council has yet to take a similar action.

If Lake Oswego ratepayers support the idea, a formal approval would follow. Ratepayers can comment on the proposal at the Tuesday hearing, which takes place at 6 p.m. at Lake Oswego City Hall, 380 A Ave.

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