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Tualatin Valley Water District gets better rate in Portland pact

It was a game of chicken, said Tualatin Valley Water District Commissioner Richard Burke. The water district won.

Wednesday night the Portland City Council renewed its contract with the district, approving a 10-year agreement to supply water from the Mount Hood National Forest to about 200,000 eastern Washington County residents.

The agreement comes after months of politically charged negotiations over a two-decades-old contract that expires July 1.

In trying to renew the contract, the water district argued for a better rate that would be locked in for 10 years versus 20.

The district threatened to turn to the Willamette River as its main water supply if the city of Portland refused its terms. To make its point, the district began in February an expedited process to build a pipeline to the Wilsonville Water Treatment plant.

Now, the district has slowed those plans and there is no longer a rush to get to the Willamette River, Burke said.

'We have more options now,' he said. 'We have more breathing space now. And that bodes well for our economy.'

Under the new contract, the water district got a slightly cheaper rate - 86.5 cents per 100 cubic feet (about 750 gallons of water) compared to its previous rate of 89.5 cents. It agreed, however, to buy about 47 percent more water than it had under the old contract.

Ty Kovatch, chief of staff for Portland City Councilor Randy Leonard, who oversees the city's water bureau, said Leonard was pleased with the outcome of the negotiations.

In addition to the water district, the city also negotiated contracts with 18 other wholesalers.

'We gave folks the choice to choose either the 10-year or the 20-year contracts,' Kovatch said. 'We think it's important to build strong relationships with regional partners.'

With the Portland contract now in place and at reasonable terms, Burke said he did not know if the commissioners would still place a question on the September ballot giving voters the option of choosing the Willamette River as the district's long-term water supply.

'I don't think there is any consensus on what to do about that at this point,' he said.