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Willamette River water project planning begins

Wilsonville's Willamette River Water Treatment Plant is key to the plan to supply water to metro cities


by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville has been taking water from the Willamette River for more than a decade now. Under a long-range plan being developed by the Tualatin Valley Water District and its partners, Wilsonville would be the source of treated Willamette water for Hillsboro and other cities in the future.Planning for a long-term project to supply cities in the metro area with water from the Willamette River is getting underway.

And because the Willamette River Water Treatment Plant is the key to the concept, Wilsonville will continue to be at the heart of the discussion.

The Tualatin Valley Water District intends over the next six years to plan and design not only a new and expanded water treatment plant in Wilsonville together with the city of Hillsboro, but a 26-mile network of pipeline and reservoirs. Construction would tentatively start in 2021 and take five more years to complete. Water would then begin flowing to Hillsboro and other cities that get water from the TVWD by 2026.

Wilsonville city councilors heard more last week on the status of the project, which the water district has said could cost it upward of $408 million to carry out. Todd Heidgerken, community and intergovernmental relations manager for the water district, was on hand May 5 to share the latest details. He told the council that work on the project is really getting started in earnest, beginning with planning on various portions of the project, as well as the creation of an ad hoc intergovernmental group dubbed the Willamette Water Supply Council. Public outreach also is being addressed, with a new website and a planned public open house next fall.

Other than a basic conceptual outline, Heidgerken said, few concrete details about the proposed water treatment plant expansion and pipeline project have yet been hammered out.

“There’s not a lot of details yet,” he said. “But Wilsonville is very well represented at (Water Supply Council) meetings; it’s nice to have historic knowledge of our project, that’s useful input to have.”

Wilsonville city staff is working with the water district and Hillsboro in the process, which Heidgerken said will really enter the public realm in the fall with the planned community open house. In addition, a new website, ourreliablewater.org, has been created to help the public keep tabs on the project, which ultimately could involve up to six cities in various capacities, including Wilsonville, Sherwood, Tualatin, Tigard, Hillsboro and Beaverton.

Other ongoing work on the project includes the design of a water transmission pipeline that would be installed as part of a large extension of Southwest 124th Avenue connecting the Tualatin-Sherwood Road with Grahams Ferry Road.

As all of this goes forward, Heidgerken said, ongoing communication with the various governments involved in the planning process will be increasingly important.

“Obviously we value very greatly the insight that’s been shared as part of the process,” he said. “The nice thing is that especially the TVWD and the city of Wilsonville already have a partnership, and the hope and desire is to continue that.”

Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp agreed with that sentiment, but added that he hopes other project partners do not overlook Wilsonville’s unique position as water treatment plant host.

“One of my concerns is that we don’t want to upset our apple cart,” Knapp said. “We understand that other communities have a problem they have not resolved, but if their resolution is that our cost structure or our certainty goes away in order for them to solve their problem, then I have concerns here. For all the dialogue we’ve had, I have not heard enough specificity about anything to assuage that concern, and I don’t know how concerned we should be on that.”

More specifically, Knapp explained that in the future he worries Wilsonville will be forced to scrap its current rate structure and other aspects of its service as part of a larger coalition of cities taking water from the river. He said that if other cities are going to benefit from the groundwork Wilsonville laid in building a treatment plant the city ought to be compensated in some fashion.

“It seems like it’s awfully easy for our stability to be negatively impacted, and that’s a concern from the perspective of impacting our citizens,” he said. “The cost of that has to be huge, and I’m concerned that Wilsonville is thrown into the pot with everything else and comes out with a blended average expense that does not reflect the fact we went out 12 years ago and built the plant and did the hard work. So how does that factor into the whole thing? I haven’t heard anything yet that gives me confidence that this is not the direction we’ll be going.”

TVWD CEO Mark Knutson answered that a lack of details means there is currently no good answer to that question.

“It’s not very surprising, but unfortunately right now we’re early in the process,” Knutson said. “I can’t point to where we addressed that and that’s exactly why we’re going through the government process, so your comment is very timely. Your staff has made those concerns very clear to us, so as we go forward we’re going to be very mindful of that and structure an agreement that addresses those concerns.”

Web: ourreliablewater.org.




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