On June 14, Clackamas County wastewater and drinking water providers received a notice that their sodium hypochlorite supplier might not be able to honor promised deliveries of the chlorine that's critical for treating tap water.
John Collins, general manager of the South Fork Water Board, said he was grateful that the chlorine shortage will not affect his customers in Oregon City and West Linn. However, the city of Lake Oswego sent out a press release June 17 encouraging city of Lake Oswego and Tigard water service area consumers to reduce their indoor and outdoor water usage due to the shortage.
While the tap water remains safe to drink, the city is encouraging people to take shorter showers, don't leave the water running and postpone new plantings.
"These voluntary usage reductions will remain in place until the chain of supply for sodium hypochlorite has been reestablished," the press release said.
Collins has been working round the clock to try to prevent shortages for other water-supplying agencies throughout Oregon.
"Strap on your seatbelts, because it's going to get bumpy," Collins said. "They're making herculean efforts to supplement this plant that failed. We manufacture our own chlorine on a small scale compared to these big guys, so we will not be affected."
As reported by the Washington Post this month, factors of COVID-19 isolation, an increased demand for backyard pools and a fire at a Louisiana chlorine plant have combined to create the worst chlorine shortage the country has ever seen. Meanwhile, Westlake Chemical, based in Longview, Washington, the West Coast manufacturer of sodium hypochlorite, suffered a major electrical failure and is unsure when they can resume production.
Oregon and Washington wastewater and drinking water service providers are facing down the shortage of the critical chemical component in the water-treatment process. Sodium hypochlorite degrades over time, so maintaining long-term inventory is not an option.
Clackamas County water and sewer providers met soon after the notification was sent out to combine efforts in procurement and discuss mutual aid. Oregon's statewide emergency-management officials requested all sewer and drinking water providers coordinate with their county-level disaster management agencies.
Among those coordinating with state and county agencies is the Oak Lodge Water Service District, whose spokesperson Alexa Morris said that protection of public health is their No. 1 priority.
"The drinking water coming out of your tap remains safe to drink and use," Morris said.
Oak Lodge staff have implemented measures to extend chlorine supplies and are working to acquire additional supplies from other manufacturers, while also ensuring that the water remains safe to drink. District customers were advised that they can voluntarily help conserve the chlorine supply by reducing indoor and outdoor water use. Morris directed further questions to state authorities.
According to a fact sheet being distributed by the state, Oregon authorities are tracking for potential impacts, but there is no immediate change for consumers anticipated. The state is acquiring pallets of drinking water, if they are needed, but say there is no need for members of the public to amass water supplies.
Gov. Kate Brown's office, statewide Emergency Management and U.S. Homeland Security are leading efforts to procure new chlorine supplies. Agencies are reporting directly to Oregon Emergency Management regarding their current supply duration. Pool owners should brace for a chlorine price jump of about 58% from June through August compared with the same period in 2020, according to IHS Markit data.
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