Since 1999, Tigard's city charter has expressly forbid the city from using the Willamette River as a source for its drinking water supply without voter authorization.
But in the future, the president of the Tigard City Council suggested Tuesday, Sept. 12, Tigard may have no other option but to draw from the Willamette River as its water needs grow.
The Tigard City Council expressed interest late last year in becoming a community partner in the Willamette Water Supply Program, a major infrastructure project spearheaded by the Tualatin Valley Water District and the City of Hillsboro. While no formal agreements have been signed yet to make it official, under the terms presented at Tuesday's meeting, Tigard would purchase a 10 percent share of an expanded water intake on the Willamette River — a capacity of up to 15 million gallons per day (mgd) from which it could draw as needed, once construction is complete, and provided infrastructure is in place to treat and pipe that water to Tigard.
City Councilor John Goodhouse characterized the city's purchase of a share in the Willamette intake as a "down payment" of a little more than $3 million, which project consultant Dennis Koellermeier — Tigard's former public works director — said is a substantially smaller investment than what was originally estimated. In other words, by buying in now, Tigard can give itself the option of drawing from the Willamette River in the future.
That option remains a theoretical one unless and until voters either repeal the 1999 charter amendment or vote to explicitly authorize the use of the Willamette River as a drinking water source.
"We still have a charter amendment that disallows the use of Willamette River water by the City of Tigard until we go back out for a vote to possibly change that," said Mayor John L. Cook. "So that also would have to come at some point in the future."
Jason Snider, the council president, suggested that necessity could make that an easy choice for voters.
"At some point, it may come to a question of whether we're going to run out of water or if people are going to approve this," Snider said.
About two-thirds of Tigard, along with neighboring Durham, King City and unincorporated Bull Mountain, currently receives its water from the Clackamas River, through a partnership project with Lake Oswego that just came online last summer. Tigard's future plans include a further expansion of that partnership, increasing its current 14 mgd capacity up to 18 mgd.
Even factoring in a 6 mgd contingency source in the form of aquifer recovery and storage wells, though, Tigard officials have said they expect the city to struggle to meet demand within its water service area by the late 2060s, due to projected population growth.
Growth estimates are also what prompted Hillsboro and the Tualatin Valley Water District to embark upon the Willamette Water Supply Program, which carries an estimated total price tag of about $1 billion, one of the costliest infrastructure projects in Oregon history.
Construction work has already begun on the project. It is scheduled to begin supplying Willamette River water to Hillsboro and the Tualatin Valley Water District by 2026.
The Tualatin Valley Water District is the water provider for about one-third of Tigard, in the city's north and east.
If the joint project comes online as expected, that would mean hundreds of thousands of Washington County residents will be drinking Willamette River water within a decade — joining water customers in Sherwood and Wilsonville who already do so. That could be significant, Koellermeier suggested.
"My view is that by that time, the world will have changed," Koellermeier said of the point when Tigard may need to seek voter approval to tap the Willamette. "A good share of Washington County will now be using Willamette River water. There will be good experiences there."
Some of those county residents will be Tigard residents as well. The Tualatin Valley Water District is the water provider for about one-third of Tigard, in the city's north and east.
The Tualatin Valley Water District is currently a wholesale customer of the Portland Water Bureau, along with a dozen other water districts and municipalities in the Portland area, including Tualatin.
Tigard bought water from Portland prior to the completion of the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership, at which point it switched over to the Clackamas River supply.