An aggressive plan to conserve water will begin soon in Lake Oswego as a means of staving off expansion of the city's water utility.

Out of the gate, the plan is voluntary, but city officials are poised to mandate constraints if the community does not support the program in significant numbers.

The Lake Oswego City Council approved forging ahead with a conservation plan April 10, voting to fund a full-time conservation specialist and an analysis of water rates designed to curb use.

'The council is interested in finding ways to defer another large capital expenditure until our interceptor sewer project is done,' said Joel Komarek, city engineer for Lake Oswego.

Without any action, Lake Oswego's water utility needs an estimated $73 million in upgrades or will fall short of its ability to meet summertime demand for water.

The city council approved $5 million in needed repairs while approving the conservation plan.

Meanwhile, officials continue to examine a potential utility partnership with Tigard. Lake Oswego ratepayers could save money but would sacrifice some control in the exchange.

Though the city's water needs were recently projected to exceed carrying capacity in the utility by 2009, Komarek said reducing water use could postpone expanding it.

'If we mount an aggressive conservation campaign and we are successful with that campaign, it's possible we could reduce water demands enough during the peak season … to defer having to expand our supply system, potentially for another seven or eight years,' Komarek said.

If the voluntary plan is not successful, the city is poised to force compliance during summer months, when need for water is greatest. Likely the city would enact laws to restrict lawn watering if the voluntary program failed.

The city may also opt to offload wholesale water customers as a means of meeting summertime demand. Lake Oswego currently sells water to eight wholesale customers that supplement their own water supplies with Lake Oswego water in summer.

Those customers include five water districts that operate within the city's service area - Lake Grove Water District, Glenmorrie Water Cooperative, Skylands Water Company, Rivergrove Water District and the Alto Park Water District - and also Portland and Tigard.

Komarek said even if a conservation program fails to postpone utility upgrades, such a program is needed in Lake Oswego regardless, as water use here remains high.

'It's just the right thing to do and Lake Oswego needs to get better at it,' he said.

Lake Oswego's water customers consume hundreds of gallons more water per day per capita than their neighbors. The city previously has had no conservation program.

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