The citizens of West Linn face a tough challenge. The city’s water pipes and its primary storage reservoir, the Bolton Reservoir, are in dire need of repair or replacement.

The city council is considering a citizen vote next spring to increase water rates for additional revenue to maintain water lines within the city limits.

Many of the water lines are corroded and failing at an astonishing rate. The city has repaired more than 30 line breaks since 2011.

Jim Whynot, the manager of the water department, says that the failures are not only becoming more frequent, but more expensive. Large primary water lines are failing, which causes more damage, more costs and longer service interruptions. We should expect a higher frequency of failures and more expensive breaks in the future if the city does not increase its line maintenance efforts.

The recent Tidings article (Sept. 20) discusses the problems with the Bolton Reservoir, which is over 100 years old and in extremely poor condition. The council has set aside any decisions concerning the Bolton Reservoir while the city staff and the utility advisory board review new information on the geological stability of the reservoir.

The council wants to focus on the water lines. West Linn water lines have deteriorated, in large part, due to insufficient funds. The city’s water master plans since the 1990s require the annual expenditure of approximately $750,000 for line improvements and replacements. Since 1990, however, the city has expended about $8 million on water capital improvements, or less than $350,000 annually. This includes approximately $2.75 million from the 1987 and 2000 water revenue bonds.

In short, the necessary operating costs for our water system outstrip revenues from water sales by roughly $500,000 annually. We avoid an annual shortfall by not paying for required line maintenance.

The city’s primary operating cost is the purchase of water from South Fork Water Board, which is about $1 million per year. That cost is currently about one-third of city’s annual water revenue. The SFWB has increased annual water costs by 3 to 7 percent on average since 1994. Although the city has annually increased its water rates by 5 percent since 2005, those increases have not kept pace with increases in SFWB rates and other operating costs.

While operating costs have climbed, water revenues have slipped. The city’s customers slashed water use in 2008 due to the recession. Water revenues fell, then leveled off lower than 2007 revenues. Although water consumption and water revenues have slightly risen in 2012, the economic outlook is too uncertain to conclude that water revenues will stabilize or increase with current rates.

The city council may consider a rate increase of approximately 18 percent for water line expenditures working out to about a $3 per month increase on average. That would improve water revenues by about $500,000 annually, if water consumption stays at current levels.

We face a tough choice — the hardships from a rate increase or the risks of letting our water system decay.

Ray Kindley is the chairman of the West Linn Utility Advisory Board.

Contract Publishing

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine