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Specialist pushes LO toward water conservation

Conservation program hits a new level
by: Vern Uyetake, 
Kari Duncan, manager of the water treatment plant for the City of Lake Oswego, is hoping a rigorous water conservation program will hold the line against expensive expansion of facilities.

Faced with a possible water shortage due to ever-growing demand, the city of Lake Oswego had two choices:

(1) Expand its water production, which would be extremely expensive.

(2) Expand its water conservation efforts.

Since the city also wants to save money, the second option was an easy choice to make, and that is why Kevin McCaleb has been brought in as the city's water conservation specialist.

'Essentially, we want Kevin to create our conservation program from scratch,' said Joel B. Komarek, city engineer. 'We do have some programs going, but we want something that is more comprehensive in scope.'

McCaleb is a good man for the job. His whole career has basically been involved with water in some way - construction, maintenance, home plumbing.

His career has intensified in that direction in the last 10 years. McCaleb was formerly water manager for the Denver Zoo and most recently he was water specialist for Oro Valley, Ariz., a small town just north of Tucson.

Although he will be working with a lot more water in Lake Oswego, McCaleb said, 'The issues will still be the same. I've got to fight the attitude that sees water running and says, 'Why do we need to conserve?' There's no place that doesn't face issues like this.

'Basically, I want get out to residents, be the face of our water utility, and show that we're here to help.'

Education is right at the top of McCaleb's priorities.

'Public education is the foundation of any water conservation program,' Komarek said. 'We want to inform our customers that conservation is important. Especially the younger members of the community, so they'll start changing behavior.

'Beyond public education we want to implement programs like water audits for both residential and commercial consumers.'

But the city doesn't want to ask anybody to do anything it isn't willing to do.

'We want to do inventories of all our facilities regarding plumbing fixtures - for sinks, urinals and toilets, Komarek said. 'Do they meet the code? If not, they should be replaced with ones that do meet the code. Outside of landscaping, the toilet is the biggest water user in a home.

'The city wants to set a good example before we get out and ask citizens to do it.'

Water customers won't have to be afraid of audits.

'It's going to be an education tool,' McCaleb said. 'We won't rate on a scale. Most people will do the right thing if they know how to do it. Most people are aware of water issues.'

Komarek is hoping that McCaleb's hiring will be a turning point in city water use.

'We've identified our peak season demand, and we're approaching our maximum capacity,' Komarek said. 'Our water treatment plant (located in West Linn) produces 16 million gallons a day, and on our peak days we're close to exceeding that.

'We wanted to defer very expensive expansion costs, and one way to do it is a very aggressive conservation program.'

Kari Duncan, water treatment plant manager, said, 'Although future expansion and infrastructure improvements will be necessary regardless of conservation efforts, we hope to delay and/or reduce the costs of expansion by instituting a rigorous conservation program immediately.'

The state government has given Lake Oswego a big push in that direction. It recently passed legislation mandating that holders of water rights must implement a water conservation plan.

'We didn't have the existing staff on board to build a program from scratch,' Komarek said. 'We went to the city council last May to fund a new position.

'Kevin will take our water conservation plan and our city sustainability plan (which is expected to be approved in November), take it and develop programs, manage them and monitor them.

'We were lucky to get Kevin, because that's what he was doing in Oro Valley. He has a lot of experience and background.'

'Kevin brings a lot of hands-on experience,' Duncan said. 'His experience and certification as an irrigation auditor and trainer for the Irrigation Association is also a big bonus for us.'

With water demand pushing capacity production, Komarek hopes to get results quickly.

'In five years we've got to report back to the state on our plan,' he said.

'We hope to see our peak summer usage decreasing and the trend of increasing average water demands over the next few years,' Duncan said. 'The goal of the city's sustainability committee is to reduce demand in city facilities and city irrigation accounts by 2 percent per year and to reduce the community-wide peak season three-day demand by 5 percent over five years.'

McCaleb plans on becoming very visible to Lake Oswego citizens over the coming months.

'We're taking a real broad approach. We're covering a lot of bases,' he said. 'We would like to develop a cutting edge program.

'We would like to see Lake Oswego mentioned as having a water conservation program that's the very best.'