Officials say prices must go up to pay for an expanding system, including the multi-million Willamette River project.

COURTESY PHOTO: WILLAMETTE WATER SUPPLY PROGRAM - Work is already underway to connect Hillsboro's water system to a new Willamette River intake at Wilsonville. Over 30 miles of pipeline must be installed, and the costly project is one component of new proposed rate increases.

Despite not being formally adopted yet, Hillsboro's proposed water rate increases for 2023 and 2024 are causing some frustration among local businesses and residents.

The proposed increases to single-family residential, multifamily housing and commercial water customers are scheduled to begin on Jan. 1, though they must still be adopted by the Utilities Commission.

Under the current matrix, residential rates would increase by 8.8% for 2023 and another 8.9% in 2024.

For "a typical residential customer using 6,000 gallons a month," according to the city government, that would be about $3.73 and $4.11 per month, respectively.

For multifamily residential properties, like apartment complexes, the rate increases would be 10.4% in both 2023 and 2024. Nonprofits and public entities would see their rates increase 10.4% in 2023 and 10.5% in 2024.

Commercial users would pay 10.6% more in 2023 and 10.5% more in 2024. Industrial users, fire protection agencies and irrigation districts would see rate increases of 10.5% both years under the proposed rates.

Officials say the increases are necessary to pay for the costs of service, maintain existing infrastructure, and to pay for additional water supply.

In addition to water from the Upper Tualatin River, Hillsboro's traditional source of drinking water, future supply will also come from the Willamette River.

The Tualatin Valley Water District has been partnering with Hillsboro and Beaverton to develop a new supply intake on the Willamette River near Wilsonville, as well as a new treatment plant in Sherwood and reservoirs in Beaverton.

The $1 billion project is a massive undertaking, with funding from the water district and participating cities. It includes new infrastructure projects that have been underway for years and that still have years left to go.

More than 30 miles of pipes will also be needed to deliver the water clear to Hillsboro. Not only does the city say this is necessary to support future growth for the city, but the new water system will also be more seismically resilient.

Currently, pipelines are being built in Wilsonville to link up to the water system that runs along Southwest Kinsman, Boeckman, and Ridder roads, as well as along 95th Avenue. That phase of the project began in May and is expected to wrap up in 2024.

Project phases have been designed to reduce traffic impacts and complete work during currently scheduled road maintenance, the Willamette Water Supply website states.

While officials say the Willamette River supply is needed to keep up with new growth and make the water system more resilient, the the increased water rates have already garnered negative feedback from the public.

Vertigo Brewing, based in Hillsboro, sent out a complaint on Twitter shortly after the new rate proposals were published on the city's website.

"We have been fighting rising COG's and now @CityofHillsboro wants to raise our (and your) water rates double digits next year and the year after," Vertigo Brewing's official account said. "Please let your voices be heard that this is unacceptable."

Notably, Vertigo Brewing is a customer of the Tualatin Valley Water District, not the city's water supply. The TVWD serves customers east of Cornelius Pass Road and north of Highway 26.

A community conversation about the water rates is planned for 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, to be held virtually and in-person in Room 113 of the Hillsboro Civic Center, located at 150 E. Main St.

There is also a public hearing at the same time and venue scheduled for Oct. 3. Zoom details can be found online at the city's proposed water rates webpage.

Residents and affected businesses can also use the Engage Hillsboro platform to submit feedback.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify that the Utilities Commission grants final approval to water rates and that Vertigo Brewing is not a Hillsboro Water customer.

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.

Have a thought or opinion on the news of the day? Get on your soapbox and share your opinions with the world. Send us a Letter to the Editor!