POLK COUNTY -- If most people don't think much about where their water comes from, their lives literally depend on it.
In Polk County, a small group representing local governments and water agencies has met every month since March 2003 to find a source of water that will last the next 40 years.
Polk County received a $50,000 state grant for the committee to study the county's water needs and options available. In April, the committee will pick two or three favorites to have an engineer compare.
At this point, the group is leaning toward recommending Willamette River water, said Polk County Community Development Director Gene Clemens. Options include purchasing water from Adair Village, developing a Willamette water right in Polk County, and buying excess water from Army Corps of Engineers dams that could then be pulled from the river.
Using well water has gathered less support with the group. Ray Hobson vice-chairs the committee and also represents the Perrydale Domestic Water Association.
"If you need to look for a reliable, permanent supply of water, it needs to come from best resource we have," Hobson said. "Which is the sky."
Ground water is great, Hobson said, but it can run out or become contaminated.
"Anything can happen to ground water and wells.
"If we want to supply water on a permanent basis out of wells, we are probably whistling Dixie."
Building reservoirs would provide enough water, Clemens said, but would cost much more than other options. Estimates prepared for the committee set the cost of a new dam and reservoir at between $82 million and $87 million, depending on the location.
By contrast, developing a new water right along the Willamette would cost around $46 million. Using Adair Village water would run around $43 million to $71 million, depending largely on location of a treatment plant.
Each estimate budgets $12 million to either build a new plant or upgrade an old one.
Adair Village uses only a fraction of its treatment capacity, Clemens said.
However, he said, that plant alone would not meet Polk County's needs.
In 2040, Polk County residents will use more than 35 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water at the peak of summer.
That's up to 14.6 cfs less than the county's water agencies will be able to provide, Clemens said. Treating more than 35 cfs of water would require either a new plant designed to expand or using more than one plant.
Tapping the Willamette River for drinking water surely would raise eyebrows, Clemens said, as it did farther downstream in Wilsonville.
There, a treatment plant opened in 2002 above objections of some residents worried about pollution.
Clemens expects controversy should local water agencies choose Willamette water. He also expects they would overcome it.
"It's going to be a concern and you can treat for it," he said.
As a technical advisory committee, the water resource group can only recommend options to water agencies. Polk County's cities, water districts and water associations would decide whether to act on the recommendations.
Under a new water system, Clemens said, Customers eventually would pay around 30 cents per 100 cubic feet -- 748 gallons -- of water. They could pay much more at first.
As the number of water users increases, the cost to each would decrease.
The same amount of water costs $1.60 for Independence customers and $1.15 for Monmouth customers.
If Polk County water agencies create a central system, an entity would be needed to regulate that system. Clemens said county officials have little interest in running it themselves.
"Polk County's not in the water business," he said.
The committee's engineer will provide more precise cost comparisons for the preferred options and give a "road map" of what to do next, Clemens said. Then comes the hard part -- getting water users to agree on a plan and getting an entire system built and running.
The water advisory committee meets at 2 p.m. Friday, April 6 at Monmouth's Volunteer Hall. More information is available by calling 503-623-9237.