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City elected leaders seek financial savings, local control over groundwater system

PMG FILE PHOTO - By 2027, Gresham residents will no longer be drinking Bull Run water. Before the end of this decade, Gresham residents will have to get used to a new water source coming out of their taps as the city turns away from the Bull Run Reservoir.

City Council took the first step in finalizing the break earlier this month after voting to form a partnership with the Rockwood People's Utility District to develop a groundwater system, similar to what is used in Troutdale, Wood Village and Fairview. That means by 2027 the city will have completely eliminated an annual wholesale purchase of water from the city of Portland.

The next half decade in Gresham will be dedicated to completing construction, testing and implementing a groundwater system. Wells and infrastructure will be built over the next several years to meet the deadline of bringing the system online in 2027.

"We believe the groundwater is sustainable — it's a vast resource," said Steve Fancher, director of environmental services and city operations. "This isn't really a change to the customer in terms of turning on the tap."

The decision was financial. Though consumers will be spending more on water in 2027 than they are now — groundwater rates will be cheaper than purchasing from the Bull Run. Gresham estimates by 2030 the cost per 100 cubic feet of water from the Bull Run will be more than $3.00 — the city says the cost from groundwater will be $0.80.

Another factor was the difference in capital cost. To build its own groundwater system, the city estimates having to spend $65 million to get everything up and running. If Gresham stays as a wholesale buyer of Bull Run water, it would be on the hook for about $100 million to help fund the new water filtration plant.

But by staying and committing that large sum of money, Gresham would still have no-say in what occurs at the filtration plant. Some councilors asked about gaining some decision-making control during a meeting in February when this topic was first presented, but city staff said Portland was not interested in taking that route.

At this point, the break from Bull Run is inevitable. City leadership said even if Portland was to backtrack on constructing a new filtration plant and shift to a less expensive option, such as ultraviolet treatment, the ongoing cost of producing potable water is still expected to be significantly less with the groundwater option.

The debate around this topic was sent out via a Gresham newsletter, has been posted on the city website, and was presented at various neighborhood association meetings and through some community-based organizations.

In the coming months, the city plans to reach out to residents to further explain its decision.

"Given the alternatives it was an easy decision to make," said Councilor David Widmark. "We have a large aquafer to draw on and a great partnership with Rockwood Water."


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