Clackamas County finalizes wastewater services consolidation
Wastewater treatment across Clackamas County now falls solely under the umbrella of Water Environment Services (WES), an intergovernmental partnership run by the county that consolidates the Tri-City Service District (TCSD) — which serves West Linn — Clackamas County Service District No. 1 (CCSD#1) and the Surface Water Management Agency of Clackamas County (SWMACC).
The partnership was approved in November 2016 by the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, but wasn't fully implemented until July 1 of this year.
The goal of the consolidation, according to WES Director Greg Geist, was to provide long-term stability for services in the region.
"Really, the idea of a regional service provider for wastewater and surface water needs goes back to at least 2008," Geist said.
"But most recently it came up in 2016 as we were considering how to build additional infrastructure to accommodate the region's growth. And it just became very clear to people that we needed to have a structure in place that was going to give long term certainty and the ability to plan and deliver on this vital infrastructure."
Elected officials from some cities, including West Linn, Gladstone and Oregon City, have pushed back on the county's efforts to consolidate and even explored the possibility of taking over governance of wastewater services on a municipal level. Geist said those talks seemed to be dying down.
"I haven't heard about cities wanting to break off," he said. "My feeling is when they look at the economics of it, it's not going to make sense. We provide excellent service at a great price."
However, West Linn City Council President Brenda Perry said the City has been in contact with the Oregon Consensus consulting group to start the process of exploring a potential governance change.
"We're not real thrilled with (WES) just marching forward on this," Perry said. "We're working with (Oregon Consensus) to look at, what are we looking for as cities? Why do we want a governance change, what would it look like and whether it would be feasible."
In the meantime, WES will continue to serve more than 165,000 customers across the county.
Historically, TCSD served West Linn, Gladstone, Oregon City and a small unincorporated area of the county, while CCSD#1 covered Happy Valley, Johnson City, Milwaukie and unincorporated urban northern Clackamas County.
In a press release, WES spokesperson Ed Nieto noted that TCSD and CCSD#1 have been "financially and operationally intertwined" for about 20 years and clean a combined 6 billion gallons of wastewater each year.
The Tri-City Water Pollution Control Plant is located in Oregon City, and CCSD 1 is served by the Kellogg Facility in Milwaukie.
Under WES, the three service districts will be referred to as "rate zones," and customers will only pay for the services they utilize locally.
"In addition to ensuring long-term certainty, this partnership will save WES customers millions of dollars and keep rates low through the sharing of resources, assets and staff," Clackamas County Board of Commissioners Chair Jim Bernard said in the press release.
At the Water Environment Federation Conference in New Orleans on Oct. 2, WES will be honored with a "Utility of the Future Today" award to recognize "forward-thinking, innovative water utilities that provide resilient value-added services to communities, particularly in community engagement, watershed stewardship and recovery of resources such as water, energy and nutrients." The county has long been targeting improvements to its wastewater treatment systems, which it says are at capacity. Formalizing the WES partnership will help with that planning, according to Geist.
"It's our ability to actually look with confidence at five, 10 or 20 years down the road at what our regional needs are going to be with respect to growth, with respect to asset replacement, looking at environmental regulations and putting plans in place to respond to that. And having certainty that we're going to have the financial ability to execute on those plans for the entire region."