County agency treats water, ensures quality

The logo on the front door of the Clackamas County Water Environment Services office in Oregon City defines that agency’s mission with three simple words: Beyond Clean Water.

WES manages both the Rock Creek and Kellogg/Mt. Scott watersheds and is responsible for three service districts throughout the county, all of which treat water to ensure its cleanliness and purity before discharging it back into the Willamette River.

Clackamas County Service District No. 1 includes Happy Valley and the north part of the county. The Tri-City Service District provides water treatment service for Gladstone, West Linn and Oregon City, and the Surface Water Management Agency of Clackamas County serves the Stafford area.

The districts are their own legal entities, and the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners acts as the board of directors for all three. They all have their own advisory committees comprised of citizens and customers.

“Our job is to protect public health and the environment,” WES public information officer Amy Kyle said.

One of WES’ key missions is to ensure the county’s compliance with mandates of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Water Act, as well as the state Department of Environmental Quality.

“We work with them pretty closely on a lot of projects,” Kyle said.

WES has just over 100 employees. Around half of them are in Oregon City, on the fourth story of the Clackamas County Development Services building. The rest are located at the four WES treatment plants throughout the county.

Although WES is a county government department, it receives approximately zero dollars from the general fund. Instead, its operating expenses are met through the rates that it charges for water treatment services.

“That makes us a little unique as a department of the county,” Kyle said.

Kyle said that environmental regulation requirements become more stringent every year, and meeting those is increasingly difficult as population growth occurs.

Growth prompted the construction of the new $120 million wastewater treatment plant located on the Tri-City Service District campus in Oregon City. That facility has won awards for sustainability, and its capabilities exceed standards set by DEQ.

WES utilizes the most modern science and technology available in order to perform its mission of water cleanliness.

“It’s a very complicated, yet natural process,” Kyle said.

Surface water is another area that WES works on. That water often goes straight to a city’s storm drain and right back out to creeks or other watersheds. As such, WES works with developers on ways to limit the amount of runoff from building projects. Features like rain gardens and bio swale strips can help the water process naturally before going back to streams.

The WES staff includes a development review team that examines projects’ surface and wastewater components. There’s also an enforcement arm, and WES has the ability to refer violators to DEQ. But Kyle said that most people and companies tend to be compliant.

“We try to work with people,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve ever actually fined anybody.”

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