A partnership between the cities of Lake Oswego and Tigard may be the solution to help each city meet future water demands.

Lake Oswego City Engineer Joel Komarek recently told members of an Intergovernmental Water Board meeting that Lake Oswego's nearly 40-year-old water treatment plant in West Linn reaches maximum capacity during peak seasons.

'A partnership is a great opportunity to spread the impact on a larger rate base,' said Komarek. 'We have significant water rights on the Clackamas River.'

It's those water rights that Tigard may want to tap into. Tigard's water contract with the city of Portland expires in 2016. City officials are interested in striking a deal with Lake Oswego, in which Tigard would foot a 58 percent chunk of the $135 million bill to expand.

Both cities are under pressure to find a solution. For Lake Oswego, where water consumers use about 240 gallons of water a day (according to the most recent estimates in June), officials are hoping that a water conservation program will buy the city time before it has to expand the plant.

The city's goal is to cut water consumption rates by one-half of one percent each year for 10 years.

'Our system is at a point where, through electrical or mechanical failure of critical equipment at our facilities, we may have to go to curtailment mode,' said Komarek. 'We're right there on maximum capacity (of the water plant) on hot days.'

Without the water conservation program, the city will have to expand the plant by 2009. If the city can reach a 5 percent reduction, the expansion won't be needed until 2017. An expanded plant would be able to provide 38 million gallons a day.

'Clearly, Lake Oswego needs to do something,' said Mark Knudson of Carrollo Engineers, which performed a study on the cities' water needs. 'The conservation program will buy some time. Five percent (conservation) buys eight years.'

'How well we conserve affects the timing of the expansion,' said Komarek.

At the July Intergovernmental Board meeting, which included the Lake Oswego and Tigard city councils, members were generally positive about striking a deal in which Tigard pays $78 million and Lake Oswego pays $57 million for the plant expansion.

Lake Oswego Councilor Roger Hennagin said the 'financial advantages seem to be fairly clear-cut,' regarding a Lake Oswego-Tigard partnership. 'I see a future in which water becomes a rarer and rarer resource in the population. I would be shirking my responsibility if I didn't say move ahead, based on what we've seen so far.'

Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad said she doesn't want the city to rush into a decision, at a time when city officials are embarking on large projects such as the $100 million sewer interceptor. Referring to the city's controversial purchase of the Safeco Building for a community center or another city use, Hammerstad added 'We have controversies in our community that we can't add to.'

Gretchen Buehner of the Tigard City Council said a decision about the Lake Oswego-Tigard partnership would need to be made in the next 18 months. She said the two cities almost struck a similar partnership in the early 1990s, and it was a mistake then not to proceed.

'It's a good proposal,' she said, referring to the $135 million expansion. 'It's foolish for either council not to go ahead with this. It makes perfect sense and we need to move ahead.'

The intergovernmental board agreed to appoint Lake Oswego council members Ellie McPeak and John Turchi, and Tigard city council members Sydney Sherwood and Tom Woodruff. Buehner and Bill Scheiderich, chair of the Intergovernmental Water Board, are also on the panel.

For its part, the city just finished second interviews with candidates for a full-time water conservation coordinator. That person will not be hired in time for the critical part of the current water demand season, Komarek said. But the person will be on board in time for next summer's high demand.

The water plant expansion could be funded through water rate increase or higher property taxes - or some of each.

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