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Not Enough Water?

Study: County demand may outpace its supply

POLK COUNTY - The demand for drinking water in Polk County in 2040 will outpace what's available in its collective supplies during peak months by almost 13 million gallons a day.

That's the prognosis of an in-depth analysis completed in October involving representatives from the county's cities and water providers.

The same report, entitled the Regional Water Supply Strategy, also recommends creating a county-wide resource, using a treatment plant to divert water from the Willamette River to deficient areas, as the most viable solution to the problem.

That would entail either revamping an existing treatment facility at Adair Village or constructing a new one near Independence. The cost for either option: roughly $70 million.

Almost two years ago, Polk County commissioners created an advisory committee to evaluate the lack of viable long-term water resources in the region and to research a reliable supply source.

That group, with members from five incorporated cities and eight water associations and co-ops, presented their recommendations last week.

The issue of water scarcity seems a distant problem right now, said Interim Commissioner Phil Walker.

"But if we don't take the necessary steps, we will be suffering for lack of water in the future," he added. "And the whole net of our constituents will be asking, 'Why didn't we act on this sooner?'"

Projected demand was calculated by using population growth estimates and the gallons per capita day for each of the entities. The county will grow to almost 90,000 residents by 2040, according to the study.

Consultants from Engineering and Economic Services Inc., who performed the report, excluded West Salem from that figure and the analysis because the area receives its water from the City of Salem.

Most parts of the county receive their water from wells and other ground sources. Dallas, Willamina and the Buell Red Prairie and Rock Creek Water districts also use some surface water from reservoirs.

According to the study, 75 percent of the future deficit can be attributed to the three largest county cities. Dallas, could be experiencing a shortfall during peak demand in the summer by 2006.

Independence and Monmouth are expected to exceed their supplies during high-use periods in 2013 and 2026, respectively. Willamina is the only incorporated city where demand won't outstrip resources.

As a whole, the county will be deficient by an average of 13 millions of gallons per day (mgd) by 2040. The average daily demand for water was under 7 mgd in 2000.

The study looked at almost a dozen alternative water supply options, from expanding groundwater sites near Rickreall to constructing a reservoir in Yamhill County. The objective was to design a regional source from which all the entities could draw water as need arises.

All of the parties involved in the study would form a regulatory body that would oversee distribution. The existing water supplies -- and surplus -- of all of the parties would not be threatened.

The two most feasible solutions involve diversion and treatment plants along the Willamette at one of two points, either Adair Village or near Independence.

The county has a water right agreement in place with the City of Adair Village, which resides in Benton County.

Polk officials may buy or transfer part of that right to a location that would better serve residents of this county.

The $72 million Adair Village option would see a retrofit of its treatment plant, built during World War II.

The system has a current production capacity of 2.3 mgd, and only uses 0.6 mgd for local customers.

The proposed improvements would be completed in four phases over the next four decades, until the plant was capable of producing as much as 12 mgd.

Transmission lines would have to be built to carry water from the facility to the three main cities, then to the other parties.

The second option is a new river intake and treatment plant near Independence for $68 million. Distributing the water would be less costly than the Adair Village project, but would require more extensive treatment to meet state and federal drinking water standards because it's located downstream of industrial sites in Albany.

Both options would require the providers to secure water rights on the Willamette.

Revenue bonds would be used to finance the majority of the up front cost of construction. Wholesale rates, system development charges and debt would fund operation of the entity.

With the technical portion of the research complete, the water providers still need to select one of the alternatives, and decide what type of organizational framework they would form to oversee the regional water source.

The county will be forming a policy committee consisting of the mayors of each city and water district heads to make the final decisions.

Commissioners in the past have said the county would not be involved in selling water. Other possibilities for a governing body include a people's utility district, water authority or intergovernmental agency. All of the options allow for issuance of revenue bonds.

Each carries its own risk. For example, an intergovernmental agency formed under Oregon statute could make the all of the participants liable for the financial actions of the other parties or the regional entity as a whole.

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