Although West Linn’s water rates rise by 5 percent each year to provide for maintenance, this has proven insufficient funding to keep up with the failing pipes of our aging system.

Let’s compare our rates to those of other cities. An average residential customer in West Linn uses about 800 cubic feet per month and pays an annual average utility bill of $71 per month, more in summer, less in winter. For the same average water use our neighbors in 11 other cities pay an average of $91 per month. This ranges from $150 per month for Wilsonville to $70 per month for Tualatin. Lake Oswego pays $122 per month. This large variation is usually related to bond measures for new facilities such as treatment plants or sewer improvements. In sum, an increase of $3 per month to catch up on maintenance still keeps West Linn water users enjoying near the very lowest costs for utilities.

West Linn’s water supply is the South Fork Water Board (SFWB) treatment facility on the Clackamas River. They raise their charges to West Linn an average of about 3 percent each year. Water is piped over the Abernathy (I-205) Bridge to the Bolton Reservoir. Each of the neighboring cities has reservoirs to store water for peak demands and emergencies if the treatment facility has to shut down. For West Linn and the surrounding cities, the average storage capacity is 16.7 million gallons (MG). The range is 28 MG for Lake Oswego to 5.5 MG for West Linn. This works out to about 500 gallons per person on average, but less than 200 gallons per person in West Linn. While storage capacity is being studied for West Linn, the major concern for now is in maintaining both the piped water supply from the SFWB but also the pipes that allow West Linn to obtain water from Lake Oswego through the interties in case of an emergency.

Currently, repairs are very often made as pipes and equipment fail. Unscheduled emergency maintenance is hugely expensive compared to planned maintenance since private contractors demand a premium and may not always be available at a moment’s notice. A substantial number of pipes are approaching 100 years since installation and are likely to fail at any time. The same is true for certain pipes 50-60 years old because of materials used such as asbestos cement.

Raising the average utility bill by $3 per month is a bargain considering the improved reliability expected. While the increase for water by itself is 18 percent, the West Linn utility bill includes maintenance for streets, parks, storm drains and sewer, currently $52.29 per month, hence the increase for water only is $3. Raising the rates rather than issuing bonds ensures all users pay for their consumption and conservation is encouraged.

Bill Frazier is a West Linn resident.

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