$640M loan lets Washington County water project proceed
A federal loan of $640 million will enable residents of the Tualatin Valley Water District and several Washington County cities to get their water from the Willamette River.
The announcement this week by the Environmental Protect Agency will allow the Willamette Water Supply Project to proceed with a $1.2 billion project that will deliver water by 2026.
The loans of $388 million to the water district and $251 million to the City of Hillsboro will be repaid by their water customers. Beaverton has also purchased a share, but it's not liable for the loan.
About two-thirds of the county's roughly 600,000 people, including residents of Hillsboro, Beaverton, Aloha and parts of Tigard, are expected to use the Willamette Water supply.
The total loan amount was slightly higher than the $617 million announced by Oregon's congressional delegation last year, when EPA accepted the project's application.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said it is one of 11 projects awarded loans under the law, known as the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act, which was signed in December 2016.
He said in a statement:
"EPA's nearly $640 million in loans will help ensure that the Tualatin Valley Water District and the City of Hillsboro in Oregon have access to a clean and reliable supply of water that is built to the highest seismic safety standards. These WIFIA loans will also generate significant cost savings for residents and create over 4,000 well-paying jobs,"
The project will involve upgraded intakes on the Willamette River, more than 30 miles of pipes, a new water treatment plant near Sherwood and two reservoirs.
In addition to a supplemental source, the Willamette Water Supply Project will serve as a backup supply if a severe earthquake off the Oregon coast disrupts deliveries from Hagg Lake, which supplies much of Washington County.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon was behind the effort to create the federal program in 2014. Because the law was signed at the end of 2016, this is only the second year EPA has awarded grants under the program.
Merkley said in a statement:
"I created the WIFIA program to invest in water infrastructure projects and job creation after hearing from Oregonians that water infrastructure is one of the top issues facing their communities. This program continues to be a great model for delivering results through local and federal collaboration without the need for additional tax dollars."
The application also won support from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and three metro-area U.S. representatives, including Suzanne Bonamici of Beaverton.
The loans enable the water district and Hillsboro to lock in lower loan rates for the duration of the project. Unlike commercial bonds, loan repayments start only after the agencies draw the money. The estimated savings in interest costs are $138.4 million for the water district and $125.2 million for Hillsboro.
Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway said:
"This loan will significantly lower the cost to build an additional resilient and redundant future water supply. It will save Hillsboro ratepayers millions, create new jobs, boost our local economy and improve our water system."
Tom Hickmann, chief executive of the water district, said:
"The benefits significantly reduce the rate impacts to our customers, while simultaneously helping provide an additional water supply that results in protecting public health with a reliable drinking water source and fueling the economy with jobs now and in the future."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated who is responsible for loan repayments. Tualatin Valley Water District and Hillsboro water customers will pay back the loan. The cities of Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood and Wilsonville are not involved in the project. The story has been updated to correct this information, as well as to clarify the number of people — approximately 400,000 — expected to get their water from the Willamette Water Supply Project.
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