Trailer-mounted purifier could be borrowed throughout five counties

Lake Oswego has a new mobile water treatment system that can help supply the region with clean drinking water following a major VERN UYETAKE - Roddy Tempest of Tempest Environmental shows components of the city's new mobile water treatment system with Kevin Batridge, assistant water plant manager for Lake Oswego, examining equipment in the background.

A sort of mini water treatment plant on wheels, the trailer-mounted system will be kept at Lake Oswego’s public works operations yard but is considered a regional asset, available to water agencies in Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah and Washington counties in Oregon and Clark County in Washington.

Clackamas River Water Providers and the city of Lake Oswego used a $115,000 U.S. Homeland Security grant to purchase the purification system. The idea is to bolster water providers’ abilities to supply safe drinking water if their infrastructure is somehow compromised, whether that’s because of a prolonged power outage following an earthquake, wildfire or flood, or because of contamination of a city reservoir.

“In Lake Oswego, we’ve never had a sustained water outage of any type,” said Kari Duncan, Lake Oswego’s water treatment plant manager. “But I know, for example, with the Hurricane Katrina situation and Hurricane Sandy, you had FEMA supplying those areas with truckloads and truckloads of bottled water.

“In this situation, with the system we now have, we wouldn’t need that type of supply. You could send the bottled water elsewhere.”

Powered by a diesel generator, the system pumps water from fresh sources such as lakes, rivers or reservoirs. The water is sucked through a 2-inch-wide line and pumped up to the trailer, where it flows through a series of filters and tanks that make it safe and more palatable to drink. The process removes cryptosporidium, giardia, bacteria and viruses along with pesticides, herbicides and other organic material.

The treated water is then funneled into one of two custom-made 5,000-gallon bladder tanks — giant pillows too big to carry in a standard dump truck. It could then be supplied to the public by hooking the bladders to a tap system, or bottle filling station, or it could be trucked elsewhere.

The system can purify up to 30,000 gallons per day, enough to provide about a gallon of drinking water to each Lake Oswego resident.

But the system isn’t only for Lake Oswego — though the city might have “first dibs” in the wake of a catastrophe, said Kim Swan, water resource manager for Clackamas River Water Providers.

“Anyone else, if Lake Oswego wasn’t using it, could call and ask for it,” Swan said.

The Regional Water Providers Consortium, a group of 23 water providers in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, was heavily involved in obtaining the system, according to the city.

And while there’s nothing else like it in the region today, officials hope to eventually have a second unit that’s similar or just like it, Swan said. The group has secured another grant, this one for $130,000, which should come through in the next year or so.

“Hopefully we’ll have two of these systems within the region in the next couple of years,” she VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego shows its new trailer-mounted emergency water purification system at the main fire station on Monday. The mobile system can treat up to 30,000 gallons of water each day.

Representatives of agencies involved in the consortium attended a training session in Lake Oswego on Monday, learning about the new system from Roddy Tempest and Roger Johnson of Tempest Environmental, the company that designed it, and discussing some of the technical details of water purification processes.

Some questions remain. Duncan acknowledged that regulatory issues are still under review. It’s unclear whether certification will be required for those operating the system, and protocols need to be developed. Another murky topic involves water rights, as Lake Oswego might look to tap the Willamette River or Oswego Lake for a freshwater source during a major emergency.

“It would be an emergency situation only,” Duncan said. “Our first choice would be to treat water we already had in our own system.”

She said the details will be ironed out in the coming months. But a major advantage of this particular system stems from its ease of use, she added.

“Some of the systems we looked at required more chemical treatment of the water. You had to have precise amounts of chemicals to coagulate the water,” Duncan said.

That seemed “far too complicated to supply water in an emergency, when you may not have operators who are experienced or who have the time to learn to operate a new system.”

In contrast, this system pretty much functions with the flick of a switch, Duncan said. “It’s very simple to use.”

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