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Tualatin faces questions over proposed water emergency plan

CCIO critiques plan as 'vague,' worries it could deter business

This story has been updated from its original version.

Tualatin was on the verge Monday of adopting a plan designed to tackle what to do if there is a water shortage in the city, but questions posed by a local community and business group prompted the Tualatin City Council to postpone its resolution.

The Commercial Citizen Involvement Organization submitted a two-page list of critiques Monday ahead of the scheduled evening vote. City Councilor Ed Truax said he wanted city staff to be given time to respond to the concerns of the group and he felt it would not be reasonable to expect them to make a presentation addressing them that same day.

“Quite frankly, I don't think this is on fire anyway,” Truax said. “This is not anything we're required to do.”

The water resolution was included in the council's consent agenda, which is a list of items considered uncontroversial that is typically passed with little or no discussion. It was removed from the consent agenda by request of Councilor Frank Bubenik, and Truax then successfully moved to table it for a later meeting.

Concerns about language

Cathy Holland, who appeared before the council Monday as a Citizen Involvement Organization representative, told The Times she supports the idea of Tualatin having a plan in case of a water emergency.

“One of the things this plan is trying to do is deal with the very fast-moving change that's happening to the climate and to the environment,” she said. “And yes, I think businesses who need a clean, reliable source of water will like the Northwest a lot.”

But she said the CCIO is concerned about the “tone” of the plan, which she worries may hurt Tualatin's ability to attract businesses if they are afraid that the city may have an insufficient water supply or they may be penalized for using too much water. The group is also unhappy about “vague” language in the plan that could be interpreted different ways.

“Really, what we're trying to do is just point out clarity,” Holland said. “And we applaud their efforts to build a plan. But it has to be carefully written.”

City Manager Sherilyn Lombos said she was surprised that the CCIO submitted its questions and complaints about the draft plans hours before it was set to be adopted by resolution. Even still, she said the city is willing to address the group's concerns, and she predicted “a cordial, friendly meeting” between the city and the CCIO to iron out the issue.

Asked about the notion of the plan deterring business, Lombos said Tualatin has based its draft on similar plans that have been adopted by neighboring cities.

“If businesses are being scared away by the tone of Tigard's or Hillsboro's or Portland's, I'd be surprised by that,” she said. “We didn't reinvent the wheel.”

Further complicating the dispute is the fact that the CCIO apparently submitted its criticism after reviewing an old draft of the plan. Truax and Lombos said some of its concerns may have already been addressed when the council discussed and recommended changes to the plan last month.

Effects of the plan

Under Tualatin's agreement with the Portland Water Bureau, which supplies the city with water, Tualatin is bound to follow Portland's lead in case of a water emergency unless it adopts a plan of its own.

“Having our own gives us control,” Lombos explained.

The water curtailment plan is divided into “stages,” each with a set of potential triggering events.

The draft plan notes that Tualatin predicts regular summer weather to trigger at least “stage 1” of the plan, which calls for a public information campaign asking people to reduce their water usage and be conservation-conscious.

The drought in Washington and Clackamas counties this summer could have triggered “stage 2,” in which the city would try to reduce water usage by as much as 10 percent, mostly through encouraging voluntary conservation but also by cutting back on irrigation and “water based play features” on city property.

“Stage 3” would be triggered by a shortage in Portland's water supply or serious problems with Tualatin's own water infrastructure, and the city could move to restrict water usage and publicize the penalties for violating those restrictions.

The most severe level, “stage 4,” could be triggered by Tualatin's water supply being cut off or a statewide drought being declared, among other extreme scenarios. In that case, the city could prohibit “non-essential” water use and even cut off water service to violators.

Editor's note: The original version of this story misspelled the Commercial Involvement Organization representative's name. Her name is Cathy Holland. The story has been corrected.