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Tigard leans toward buying into Hillsboro's Willamette water project

A Washington County city is looking to join Hillsboro and the Tualatin Valley Water District to draw water from the Willamette River.

The Tigard City Council is considering a plan to buy into the Willamette Water Supply Program — a joint venture between TVWD and Hillsboro to establish a new water source for both entities near Wilsonville,

Tigard staff said the chance to have a share of the intake is “a one-time offer.” Additional infrastructure to bring Tigard’s share of the water to the city could be built at a later date.

“We’re going to grow into needing this water,” said Tigard’s Dennis Koellermeier, who oversees a similar water partnership the city has with Lake Oswego. “We don’t need it now, but the opportunity to buy into the intake is presented now, and it will not be available later.”

Councilors agreed at a City Council meeting last week.

“This is just a smart business move and a smart planning move,” Council President Jason Snider agreed.

Tigard’s share of the intake could provide as much as 12.7 million gallons per day once the project is complete — water capacity, Rager said, that would likely otherwise be sold to Hillsboro or another WWSP partner.

The estimated cost of the buy-in for Tigard would be $9.7 million, according to staff. That amount would be paid in installments rather than all at once.

But there is a potentially significant obstacle to Tigard using Willamette water: the city charter. In 1999, voters approved a charter amendment that expressly forbids Tigard using the Willamette River as a drinking water source for its citizens unless a majority of voters vote otherwise.

To that end, Tigard Public Works Director Brian Rager said TVWD and Hillsboro have agreed to a “buyback clause” whereby they would reimburse Tigard for its share of the project if Tigard ends up not using the Willamette water.

“The buyback would say (that) if Tigard either chooses not to use the intake structure or can’t, for whatever reason, either Hillsboro or TVWD would agree to essentially reimburse the city or buy back the city’s investment,” Rager explained Wednesday.

A final decision on whether to buy into the intake project is needed by the end of the year.