Forest Grove's future water plan mapped out
Forest Grove is growing, and as it does, its infrastructure needs to as well.
A growing city — and Forest Grove's population grew by close to one-quarter last decade, according to 2020 Census data — is a thirsty city. Forest Grove's public works department presented a draft of a new water master plan during a work session with city councilors on Aug. 9.
The bottom line? Officials think Forest Grove is in good shape.
"We have good reserves, in terms of financing," public works director Greg Robertson said. "The water fund is in really good health."
Robertson explained the importance of having a master plan.
"The methodical planning process that we go through, and spend an inordinate amount of time working through, basically lays out the roadmap for the future and allows the engineering staff to figure out what needs to happen to accommodate future growth," said Robertson. "It's a very thoughtful and intelligent process that we go through, and it really provides that foundation for making good, informed decisions."
In a nutshell, a master plan determines what to do and when to do it. A water master plan typically consists of the following components:
• Forecasts future water demands
• Evaluates water supply
• Develops a capital improvement plan
• Provides a basis for financial planning
With those components in mind, city staff need to define the existing system; develop population and growth projections, along with future water system demands; and evaluate the raw water supply and water distribution system.
With help from an elaborate computer forecasting tool, Forest Grove can forecast five, 10, even more than 20 years out. Of course, those long-range forecasts have exponentially greater uncertainty.
Robertson said there are two sides to Forest Grove's water system: the treatment side — which consists of the city's watershed treatment facility — and the distribution side, in which water is piped to residences, businesses and schools.
The computer model allows for testing distribution in various scenarios for weaknesses. For instance, if there's a major business or subdivision — like what's currently being constructed north of David Hill Road — planned for a specific area, the model can be used to predict whether the system can provide adequate fire flow or potable water to the property, and/or pinpoint deficiencies that would need to be addressed prior to construction.
"It's a really handy tool for identifying strengths and weaknesses in the system," Robertson said. "It gives us an idea of how much water we're going to need to supply and distribute to the community."
Still, it's important to keep in mind that a plan is a "living document," which is often amended over time, due to ever-changing metrics, primarily based around population growth.
"You're basing it around assumptions of how the community is going to grow, and sometimes they're very good assumptions and sometimes they're not so good," Robertson explained. "It's hard to paint that portrait, so you make adjustments as you go along."
That's the part of the process the department is in now: refining the document and amending prognostications that were made prior to the pandemic, which didn't really play out.
"We've made some revisions and tried to be as realistic as possible in doing that," Robertson said. "We want as good of a plan as possible prior to going into the formal process later this year."
The timeline for that process — while still rough — entails a finalized plan by the end of the year, with a final adoption in March 2022. Robertson is fairly confident in that timeline, but he said at this time, he's focused on educating elected officials and presenting the best possible and most educated plan so that the Forest Grove City Council can make an informed decision about how to proceed going forward.
Robertson said he believes time is on their side because of what he called "pretty aggressive" assumptions in prior years.
"Some of our prognostications about growth just aren't happening, so we're revising those to be realistic and then rewriting the model," he said. "Some of the improvements might be pushed out, which buys us time to figure out strategy. But we're going about this intelligently and thoughtfully, and I think we're on the right path."
Ultimately, Robertson believes the system is ahead of the curve as it applies to potable water. He said he sees mostly relatively small projects being necessary in the future, as opposed to big storage issues like tankage, which is very expensive.
Robertson added that it's not new construction that has their immediate attention regarding maintenance or construction, but rather fire flow, which typically dictates system improvements. He said there are areas — primarily on the east side of town and industrial areas — that are in need of attention.
"Fire flow in general accounts for a huge drain on the system for a short period of time," he said. "All of those things are part of the planning process. That's not uncommon in complex systems."
In all, he's confident in the system and equally confident in the continued process to accommodate what's to come.
"Certainly, there are still things to be determined, but we're on a good track and we'll know what needs to be done before the end of the year."
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