Sandy City Council discusses future of relationship with Portland Water Bureau
With a large filtration plant project in the works by Portland Water Bureau, multiple other wholesale customers discontinuing their relationships with the bureau and a potential increase in cost to remaining wholesale customers (like Sandy) the city is considering also pulling its contract with the bureau.
For decades, Sandy prided itself on being fairly self-sufficient. In 2000, the city broke away from the Metro by discontinuing a relationship with TriMet and creating the Sandy Area Metro transportation department. In 2002, the city created its own internet service provider, SandyNet.
The one way in which the growing city has remained tied to Portland, its large metropolitan neighbor, is through a water supply agreement formed in 2008. For the past 13 years, the city has received some of its treated, potable water from the Portland Water Bureau. This agreement required the city of Sandy to make infrastructure upgrades in 2012-13, by laying pipeline to connect the city to the bureau's Bull Run water supply.
In a presentation to the Sandy City Council on May 17, Murraysmith project manager Brian Ginter, who is working on the city's water master plan, informed the council that of three explored water supply options, the best sources were still from Portland Water Bureau.
Murraysmith, which provides wide-ranging stormwater services to public agencies, explored the possibility of buying water from the Gresham/Rockwood PUD groundwater supply. Ginter explained that this alternative was ruled out because the utility district did not seem to have the capacity to serve its existing customers, and the city of Sandy and this partnership would require more infrastructure upgrades by the city to connect to that water source.
Multiple Sandy city councilors voiced a desire to explore alternative sources rather than retaining a relationship with Portland.
Echoing some of the same concerns that have been voiced by the members of the Cottrell CPO, Bull Run Water Guardians and other rural opponents of the Bull Run Water Filtration Plant project, Councilor Don Hokanson questioned the oversight of the Portland Water Bureau's cost determinations and asked bureau representatives how the city of Sandy would be represented on the utility board, which hears the rate proposals from the bureau.
Representatives answered that the city's voice would be considered in the drafting of a wholesale agreement.
Hokanson also expressed disappointment in how the bureau has worked with the city in the past and management of its own costs and how they then affect customers.
"It looks like we have a proposal here that says we can either buy finished water or unfinished water from Portland," Hokanson said. "Both proposals tie us to a partner who we have zero leverage with and who is terrible at managing their own resources and so forth. Our best numbers here are probably woefully short (of what the water will cost the city). The question I'd like to put out is: Why aren't we taking control of some of the unknowns here and putting our money and efforts into developing other resources."
Lauren Courter, secretary of the Cottrell CPO, a vocal opponent of the filtration project, also presented to the council on May 17, asserting that the project would negatively affect the city and ratepayers through not only increased rates but impact on roads from construction traffic and pull on emergency services, which provide mutual aid to the plant site nighborhood.
"Aside from the projected rate increases, the city of Sandy should also be concerned about how this is going to impact transportation," Courter said. "So, during construction of this facility … it will impact the roads that lead into Sandy, primarily Bluff Road and the smaller arteries that feed into it. During construction, hundreds of trucks per day will transport 1.2 million cubic yards of prime farmland soil from the site. Heavy equipment and machinery will be needed, and they estimate 200 to 300 workers per day will be on the site for the construction of this facility. This is a huge wear and tear on our already tattered rural roads in both Clackamas and Multnomah counties. Who will pay for reinforcement and repair of these roads? And how much more will this cost the city of Sandy?"
Bureau project manager David Peters made his case for the filtration plant, as he has in multiple community meetings since 2018, to the council.
He countered one assertion by Courter that UV treatment would be just as effective and less expensive by arguing that the bureau chose the filtration method for multiple health benefits.
"Pilot study results show additional health benefits beyond removal of cryptosporidium, including reduced disinfection byproducts," Peters' presentation said.
The filtration plant, to be located on Carpenter Lane in rural Multnomah County, is the result of a requirement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Health Authority that the city of Portland create a system to remove potentially deadly cryptosporidium from Bull Run water. It was earlier estimated to cost $500 million, though that price has inflated over time. The Portland council chose it over a plant that would treat the water with UV light estimated at $150 million, based on a 2012 study. According to previous reporting by a Pamplin Media Group reporter, although the UV plant would meet EPA and OHA requirements, the (Portland) council chose the filtration plant because it also could remove other contaminants from the water, including silt and ash.
Multiple Sandy councilors voiced concern about not knowing the exact rate the city would pay for Portland's water before they're required to communicate their intent to draft a new wholesale agreement with PWB by the end of June.
Ginter of Murraysmith showed some projections, but those were said to only be forecasted numbers not set in stone. To view these projections and the entire presentation given to the council by Murraysmith and city staff, visit tinyurl.com/3h5ekmhu.
While source alternatives appear limited to Sandy — Public Works Director Mike Walker gave a rundown in the May 17 council work session of how the city had explored several neighboring sources and nearby groundwater and river sources and determined that they were not viable. The council has expressed a desire to look elsewhere for water sources so as to not continue relations with Portland Water Bureau.
A vote on the future of that relationship has not been scheduled, but city staff plans to bring more information on the topic to the council at the June 7 virtual meeting.
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