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Where Will County Find Water?

Cities, County unite to find water source for next century

POLK COUNTY -- Where Polk County gets its water for the next 100 years will depend on studies underway now. Every major water provider has joined an effort to make sure the county doesn't run dry.

City water supplies are projected not to meet the needs of a growing population in the coming decades. Dallas could find itself short of water as early as 2010, with Monmouth and Independence running short around seven years later.

"Dallas is in a position of much greater need to continue on in the process" of locking up more water, said City Manager Roger Jordan. The three cities are looking into joining their supplies together to trade water for backup and emergency shortages.

Dallas officials are studying three potential reservoir sites along Rickreall Creek to provide more water. Dallas has also joined a county-wide effort that could bring Willamette River water to the county.

The county's cities and water providers are paying $15,000 per year for dibs on a massive amount of water from Adair Village, a tiny city south of Monmouth in Benton County. Adair Village uses around one cubic foot per second (cfs) of water (450 gallons per minute), which it draws from near the Willamette River. But the city has a permit for up to 82 cfs. Polk County is keeping an option to buy 50 cfs of that water for 10 different water providers.

Commissioner Mike Propes said the county's two basic options are using Adair Village water or building more reservoirs. "We're not leaning either way. We're just exploring which would be best -- it might be a combination of both.

"We want to make sure when we're through we have the water rights tied up."

Whether Adair Village keeps its right to so much water could depend on Polk County needing it. Water rights in the western United States work on a "use it or lose it" principle, said Bill Fujii, a natural resources specialist with the Oregon Water Resources Department.

"They have to reassure us they're going to efficiently use the water and demonstrate near-term need for a certain quantity of that water right," Fujii said. Sending water to Polk County would show that need.

At this point, no one has committed to buying any water from Adair Village. Polk County is paying only for the option of buying water later, not for the water itself.

The water would still need to be treated and distributed throughout the county's various water associations, water districts and cities.

And then there's the question of whether county residents want to drink water drawn so close to the Willamette River. Commissioner Propes said he planned to visit Wilsonville, which recently began filtering Willamette water.

The state Department of Environmental Quality has judged the river's health as good in the Eugene area but only fair in the Wilsonville area.

Adair Village taps the Willamette just downstream from Corvallis, which also uses the river for drinking water.

It could take more than two years before county officials decide the water question. But Propes doesn't want to be rushed.

"We're going into this without knowing what the best option is. It's very expensive once you decide.

"But we're talking about providing water for the next 50 to 100 years for Polk County."

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