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After three years, LO-Tigard water project is online

Final work on treatment plant remains, but main pipeline is now supplying water to both cities


SUBMITTED PHOTO - Lake Oswego and Tigard city managers Scott Lazenby and Marty Wine celebrate the completion of the new system with glasses of drinking water.The Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership project is now fully online and providing water to both cities.

The $254 million project still has one major milestone ahead: completion of the upgraded water treatment plant in West Linn. But the project’s new pipeline has already taken over as the primary water supply for Tigard and Lake Oswego after three years of construction.

KOMAREK“This complex project has been a huge undertaking, and we appreciate the patience and understanding of all residents whose lives have been disrupted by this vital project,” Partnership project director Joel Komarek told The Review last week. “After years of hard work by many dedicated people, we can celebrate meeting our goal to provide a new water supply to our partner Tigard by July 1, 2016.”

The centerpiece of the project is a series of new water pipes stretching over 10 miles from Gladstone to Tigard. A raw-water pipeline carries untreated Clackamas River water from a new intake facility in Gladstone under the Willamette River to an upgraded treatment facility in West Linn. More new pipe brings water from the treatment station through Lake Oswego to the Waluga Reservoir. And a final new segment moves water from the reservoir to Tigard’s new Bonita pumping station.

Construction of the treatment plant upgrades started in 2013, while the pipeline work got underway in 2014. The final piece of pipe was installed next to the McVey Avenue Bridge in Lake Oswego in March of this year, and the entire system was then gradually brought online after various segments were tested.

The system has the capacity to pump up to 38 million gallons of water per day, and is built to rigorous seismic standards that should enable it to survive a major Cascadia-type earthquake.

“For the first time in the city’s history, Tigard now owns and controls its own high-quality water supply, no longer purchasing water from the City of Portland,” said Tigard Mayor John Cook. “This investment in ownership will greatly benefit future generations of our citizens.”

The project was also indirectly responsible for upgrades to Lake Oswego’s primary Waluga Reservoir. The original Waluga 1 tank has served Lake Oswego since the early 1980s, but last year saw the opening of the adjacent Waluga 2 structure, enabling City workers to drain Waluga 1 in preparation for a much-needed roof replacement. It is expected that both reservoirs will be needed to keep up with future water demand in Lake Oswego and Tigard.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Demolition of the old administration building at the West Linn treatment facility is one of the last steps in the project. The space will be used for additional filters and equipment for an ozone purification system.“This summer marks the beginning of our two communities owning and embracing a new, resilient and state-of-

the art shared water system,” said Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker. “That is some-thing we are extremely proud of.”

Still on the agenda are the facility upgrades in West Linn. The plant already features six new water filters and a new administration building, but the old building is still in the process of being demolished. The old building’s space will house equipment for a new ozone treatment system, which will be installed once the demolition is complete. The facility upgrade work will conclude with landscaping restoration, and the overall project is currently on track to finish in early 2017.

The project proved controversial in its planning stages. Lake Oswego residents faced rapidly rising water rates, and West Linn voters were furious when the City Council there voted to allow the expansion of the treatment plant. All along the pipeline, noisy construction had angry neighbors demanding compensation; drivers who had to navigate months of jarring installation work on Highway 43 were pretty unhappy, too.

Much of the controversy surrounding the Partnership project has died down, but one issue remains unresolved: the amount of water scheduled to be drawn from the Clackamas River.

The project calls for an eventual pumping capacity of 38 million gallons of water per day, which is the upper limit of what Lake Oswego is allowed to draw from the Clackamas River under the city’s water-rights permit from the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD).

But just as the LO-Tigard project was getting underway in 2008, an Oregon advocacy group called WaterWatch filed a lawsuit against OWRD, alleging that the permits issued by the department to Lake Oswego and other nearby water agencies would collectively draw too much water from the river and threaten endangered species of native fish.

The Oregon Court of Appeals rejected most of WaterWatch’s arguments in a December 2014 decision, but the court did rule that OWRD had failed to adequately explain its conclusion that the intake limits set by its permits would not threaten the fish. The court directed the agency to work with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to better explain its rationale for issuing the current slate of permits.

“We conclude that the department’s determination that the permits, as conditioned, will maintain the persistence of listed fish species in the affected waterway lacks both substantial evidence and substantial reason,” the court wrote in its ruling.

If the agency can’t justify the current limits, it would have to issue lower ones. A decision is still pending and will likely not be reached for several more months; OWRD began presenting its evidence at an administrative hearing in Salem last week, but an agency spokesperson said that at least two more days will be needed to finish all the testimony, and a continuation date for the hearing has not yet been scheduled.

In any case, Komarek told The Review that it will likely be “decades” before Lake Oswego and Tigard reach the 38-million-gallon level; according to the project’s website, the two cities combined currently only use about 20-26 million gallons per day during the peak season.

Lake Oswego residents can also expect one of the project’s peskier side effects to stick around: high water bills. Rates were raised dramatically to cover the cost of the project; according to the city’s master rates and fees booklet, water costs rose by 25.5 percent in 2011 and 2012, plus another 12.5 percent in 2013.

The current rates aren’t going to go back down now that the project is completed — the final bond payment isn’t expected until 2035. However, City officials say that from here on out, rates are expected rise at a slower pace with no more major jumps.

The size of the annual rate hike has remained the same or declined each year after 2012, down to a projected 4.5-percent increase this year. The projected increase for 2017 is 2 percent.

Contact Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..