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Will water flow from Willamette?

Hillsboro is celebrating 100 years of public water service in July. And by coincidence, the Tualatin Valley Water District is poised to help the city meet its water needs into the next century later this month.

The TVWD will consider an ordinance on July 27 to formally commit to a joint project to tap the Willamette River near Wilsonville as an additional source of future water. The Hillsboro Utility Commission approved the plan in February. It is scheduled to consider increasing residential water rate on July 9 in part to help fund its share of the estimated $800 million project (see sidebar).

The final vote of the TVWD board, which is scheduled in August, would commit the district as a partner in the project. The board is also expected to raise rates to help pay its share of the project.

Perhaps the most controversial provision in the TVWD ordinance is the repeal of a requirement that district voters approve the delivery of Willamette River water before it occurs. The board adopted that requirement in 2001. At that time, the city of Wilsonville was building a treatment plant along the Willamette to make the river its water source. TVWD was contributing some funding to purchase the option of drawing water from the Willamette in the future

According to TVWD community and intergovernmental relations manager Todd Heidgerken, some members of the public had concerns about the safety of Willamette River water in 2001. But, Heidgerken noted, Wilsonville residents have been drinking treated water from there for the past 11 years without any health problems. The city of Sherwood began providing water from the Wilsonville treatment plant to its residents more recently.

“The vote requirement was related to safety concerns, and we know a lot more about the safety of Willamette River water now than we did then,” said Heidgerken.

The board can authorize the project without taking any action on the vote, Heidgerken pointed out, because it must only be held before the water is actually delivered. But the board needs to commit to the project soon for two reasons, he added.

First, Hillsboro needs to be assured that TVWD is a partner so it can proceed with planning its part of the project.

And second, some money can be saved if a portion of the pipeline from Wilsonville to Hillsboro is laid under a new road being planned in unincorporated Washington County. It will be an extension of Southwest 124th Avenue from Southwest Tualatin-Sherwood Road to Southwest Grahams Ferry Road. Burying a 1.5-mile section of the pipeline under the road during the construction would save having to tear the road up later, Heidgerken said.

The exact cost of the overall project will not be known until preliminary engineering work is completed. Heidgerken said TVWD’s share will likely be slightly higher than Hillsboro’s, but those amounts could be reduced if other partners join. Tigard and Tualatin are considering becoming partners, and Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck argues that Clean Water Services, the regional wastewater agency, could benefit by joining, too.

The need for the project was explained by representatives of the Hillsboro Water Commission, Tualatin Valley Water District and Clean Water Services during a presentation to the June 27 breakfast meeting of the Westside Economic Alliance.

Kevin Hanaway, the head of Hillsboro’s water department, said the population of Washington County is expected to grow by 75 percent by 2050, resulting in the demand for water more than doubling. Greg DiLoreto, the TVWD director who retired last Friday, said studies showed the Willamette River was the least expensive and more reliable source of additional water for meeting that demand. And Bill Gaffi, executive director of Clean Water Services, praised the intergovernmental cooperation that was making the project possible.

“As they said in the Old West, whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting,” said Gaffi. “But in Washington County, we’re proving we can work together to solve our water problems.”

Originally, plans called for raising Scoggins Dam to create more capacity at Hagg Lake. But then a seismic study revealed that a severe earthquake could damage or even destroy the dam, threatening the major water supply for much of Washington County. The discovery prompted Hillsboro and TVWD to explore other options for additional water, which is how the Willamette River was chosen.

Now the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the dam, is studying how to reinforce it. No final plan or budget has yet been approved, however.

Oregon’s congressional delegation is pressing the Obama administration to complete that work and authorize funds for the repair. First District U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, who represents Hillsboro, recently went on a tour of the dam with Duyck.



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