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Work can begin soon to bring Portland water into the city of Sandy

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ROMAN JOHNSTON, PORTLAND WATER BUREAU - This earthen dam, completed in 1962, impounds nearly 7 billion gallons of high quality water from the Bull Run Watershed. The two towers in the reservoir direct water under the dam to the Headworks facility, where water is disinfected and flows into pipes that deliver it to Portland Water Bureau customers, including later this year the city of Sandy.City Manager Scott Lazenby hopes never to see another day similar to several days in 1996 when the city’s water supply was shut down, or another summer day when the demand for water was greater than the supply.

“When we ran out of water,” he said, “we had just had a really bad windstorm that just smashed (Brownell Springs). And we were still in the process of getting that repaired when the flood hit.”

But Lazenby knows it could happen again. An unexpected power outage to the area; an earthquake severing the pipe that carries all of Sandy’s water alongside Highway 26; an influx of sediment in the water treatment plant; a serious storm of any kind (wind, rain, snow, ice): Any of these could stop or reduce the water flow in Sandy pipes.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ROMAN JOHNSTON, PORTLAND WATER BUREAU - The Bull Run River bubbles up just below Bull Run Lake, deep in the Bull Run Watershed. The river flows 16 miles to the start of a large concrete-dam reservoir, built in 1929, where nearly 10 billion gallons of high-quality water are stored.That would cause immediate rationing and create big headaches for fire department personnel, who might have to put out fires resulting from whatever calamity caused the water shutdown.

“As the city grows,” Lazenby said, “it’s not a trivial thing to make sure you have enough water for people to use.”

Quality water coming

While improvements have been made to the current water system over the years, it has come close to failing a couple of times in recent years. That’s why Lazenby is relieved to see city staff and the City Council moving forward with a connection to the Portland Water Bureau system of high quality water from the Bull Run watershed. This will be the largest, most expensive project in the city’s history.

At its most recent meeting, the council approved the lowest bid price for pipeline construction, connecting to the Portland system near Lusted and Hudson roads and building a reservoir in Sandy.

City Finance Director Seth Atkinson says the entire project will approach $10 million, but the engineer estimated the pipe construction cost alone at $10 million.

Public Works Director Mike Walker told the council he was relieved when he saw that the lowest bid on pipe construction, pump stations and a reservoir was only $8.5 million. That bid, which the council approved, was from Rotschy Inc. of Vancouver, Wash.

“We had some pretty rigorous pre-qualification requirements,” Walker told the council. “But all eight bids met the qualifications.”

Atkinson confirmed that the annual 6 percent increases in water rates would likely be lowered in future years because the overall price is now lower than expected.

Lazenby said water users aren’t bearing the total bill because for several years the city has been stockpiling the fees developers pay, and that money has been applied to initial costs of this project. Part of future developer fees also will help pay back the loan for project costs.

“In the long run, most of the costs for this (connection to Portland water),” Lazenby said, “will be paid for by new development.”

Financing is ‘secure’

In order to get the project finished as soon as possible, the city is borrowing up to about $7 million from the state’s revolving loan fund. That will be paid back, Atkinson said, at 2.77 percent interest, with revenues from ratepayers as well as fees from developers.

“We’re pretty secure in our financing for this project,” Atkinson said. “The interest rate is a good deal, because if we’d gone out on the open market we’d be looking at more than 3 percent.”

City fathers’ foresight

Lazenby can’t find enough good words to say about the city fathers who, in previous years, were foresighted enough to take measures that benefit today’s residents.

“Years ago, the Sandy City Council secured the water rights on Alder Creek, which supplemented Brownell Springs,” Lazenby said. “When they designed the treatment plant for Alder Creek water, they made it so it could be doubled in size.

“It took some far-sightedness to do that, and we’ve definitely made use of it. So we’re trying to continue that tradition of putting things in place to be sure we don’t run out of water in the future.”

City fathers of the past also secured some water rights on the Salmon River. That’s just a bit of insurance because Lazenby says it would cost much more to develop those water rights.

Sandy’s backup system

The other side of this picture, Lazenby said, is the idea of having a back-up system of high quality water. He is counting on the stability of the Portland water system in the case of a catastrophic event that might put the city’s primary water system out of service.

“We’re so dependent on the one transmission pipe coming into town from the east,” he said. “You can imagine a number of things that might happen to that (pipe), and to have a completely separate source coming from a different system is a really good thing to have.”

Water for fire hydrants is an issue that Lazenby takes seriously, and if the city’s long-time water supply was compromised, he said, it likely would be at a time when emergency personnel would need water to save lives and property.

The city’s population increase also puts a drain on the water system. With a larger population, there is an increased demand for water.

Since water from Alder Creek began flowing into Sandy, Lazenby said the city’s population has more than doubled. As it is now, in some summer months city residents come close to using the system’s maximum flow.

But all of that worry will end when Bull Run water begins to flow in Sandy pipes next fall.

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