Willamette an option for more water as quake fears hold up Scoggins plans

The City of Forest Grove is saving a little bit of money now so that it's ready to help pay its share of a big-ticket project down the road that will ensure a stable supply of water.

Although the exact amount isn't known, a recent analyis showed that it could cost the city up to $6 million to help upgrade Scoggins Dam south of Forest Grove, making it one of the largest capital expenditures in city history.

"We're ramping up our water rates and trying to save money," said Public Works Director Rob Foster.

The dam creates Henry Hagg Lake, located west of Gaston, which provides drinking water and irrigation to much of the area.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the dam, has determined that it must be girded up to survive a major earthquake predicted to hit the region sooner or later.

No exact plan for strengthening the dam has been finalized. The reclamation bureau has considered adding 300 feet of dirt and other material in front of the dam, a potential fix estimated to cost between $300 and $400 million. But the bureau is also studying other, less expensive options before making a final decision.

Although the federal reclamation bureau is responsible for 85 percent of the cost , the remaining 15 percent must be paid by the Tualatin Valley Irrigation District, Clean Water Services (the county's sewer agency) and the three municipal water users (Forest Grove, Hillsboro and Beaverton) who tap the lake in the summer months, when the Tualatin River runs low.

Once the dam is strengthened, CWS wants to raise it 12 feet to increase the capacity of the lake. The additional water is not intended to supplement drinking supplies. Instead, it would further augment the flow of the Tualatin River during the summer. Increased capacity and flow of cold water from the lake would allow larger discharges of warmer treated waste water generated by Hillsboro and other growth centers in the county.

The dam work will be required under the discharge permit issued to CWS by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. CWS officials say the work must be completed by 2025.

'Needs of our partners'

Foster says Forest Grove is not growing fast enough to contribute to the flow problem in the foreseeable future. But the city understands CWS's concerns and supports strengthening the dam to meet the needs of the county’s faster-growing areas.

"We wish it didn't have to happen so fast, but we understand the needs of our partners," said Foster.

But CWS cannot say for certain when the project will be completed. The reclamation bureau is responsible for improving the structural integrity of the dam to have a better chance of surviving a future earthquake. Only after that can the height be increased to provide CWS the additional water it needs.

Even when the final plan is approved, Congress will have to be persuaded to fund it. Oregon First District Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici said last month that securing such financing could prove challenging because the earmarks that used to fund such regional projects have been eliminated. She promises to fight for the project, however.

“It’s really critical. You have to have water for growth. Look at companies like Intel, which need to expand,” Bonamici said when she visited the district Jan. 31.

No specific plan

The delay concerns Washington County Commission Chairman Andy Duyck. He worries an earthquake could damage the dam before it is strengthened — or even after it is strengthened, depending on the magnitude. If that happens, Hillsboro and other cities, including Forest Grove, might not be able to meet all of their water needs.

Duyck has a role to play because the county commission doubles as the CWS board of directors. So he has begun talking informally with other elected officials in the county about contingency plans. One would have CWS partner with Hillsboro on its current water supply project. Hillsboro started looking for a supplemental water source after the earthquake issue surfaced in 2008. The city's Utility Commission is currently looking at tapping the mid-Willamette River, where Wilsonville and Sherwood already get their water.

Another idea would have CWS pay to oversize the supply line from the Willamette River, allowing even more water to be pumped to Hillsboro if the city’s supply from Hagg Lake is temporarily reduced or interrupted.

In exchange, Hillsboro would allow CWS to use water it owns in Barney Reservoir, another — though much smaller — current source of that city's water. Duyck reasons that CWS could use that water to increase the flow in the Tualatin River in summer months until Scoggins Dam is repaired.

At this point, Duyck does not have even a preliminary cost estimate for such a partnership. The Utilities Commission was not expected to officially designate the mid-Willamette River as its preferred alternative until its Feb. 12 meeting, which occurred before press time this week.

Only then will it begin negotiating with potential partners. “I don’t have a specific plan, but we’re willing to talk about it with our potential partners,” said Duyck.

But Duyck’s concern underlines the unease among some regional elected officials about the slow pace of the federal decision-making process on the Scoggins Dam project.

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