MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Monmouth and Independence each have received surface water rights on the Willamette River, and are jointly considering methods to tap it as a potable municipal source.
The cities filed separate applications last summer with the state's Water Resources Department on a single diversion point -- about a half-mile south of the Independence Bridge.
In mid-July, they each secured rights for 4.46 cubic feet of water per second -- or 2.88 million gallons a day.
The towns will evaluate the water's quality during the next two years, said Ed Butts, a consulting engineer for Monmouth and Independence.
Pending regulatory approval from the Oregon Health Division, officials would then look at different plans to use the river water as a supplemental or primary water source, Butts said.
This could include building a treatment and filtration plant for surface water, or possibly modifying the water right to gain access to groundwater beneath the Willamette.
"We're still in the early stages," Butts said, noting it would take at least five years before the source could be developed. "We have not settled on the use of the surface water."
Growth in the cities during the past decade prompted consideration of the river as a potable source, Butts said. Monmouth and Independence rely exclusively on wells for water.
"Both cities are growing rapidly, and their existing supplies are limited," Butts said. "The biggest problem is that the population increase will surpass the well fields' ability to handle it."
Monmouth residents consume about 1.1 million gallons of water during a non-summer month, Johns said. Most of that water comes from a well located just east of the Willamette.
Independence's roughly 2,100 residential and commercial customers use about 900,000 gallons a day from its two well fields.
Monmouth and Independence have been hunting for new water sources for the past several years. Monmouth Public Works Director Craig Johns said his city has spent "a lot of money" on prospects since 2003 that haven't panned out.
"We have dug test wells that didn't produce the quantity we needed and wells that didn't have the right water quality," Johns said.
Officials have said both towns have managed to meet water production demands despite one of the hottest summers on record.
"We've spent quite a bit of money refurbishing our wells, Johns said. "And it has turned out the wells have provided us with more water ... we haven't spiked (water use) by more than 20 percent."
Monmouth did post notices for three days in July encouraging residents to voluntarily curb water use.
City leaders also asked Western Oregon University to reduce irrigation on campus by 50 percent.
Still, limitations of Monmouth's water supply are beginning to show. In July, officials denied an annexation request because of the applicant's plans to eventually build a subdivision.
The decision was based on a memo by Johns which stated Monmouth currently lacks the water production capacity to support development on land not already in the city limits.
Butts said Monmouth and Independence are close to tapping new wells, and are in the process of creating master plans that will project supply and demand during the next 20 years.
Johns said he believes Monmouth's immediate water problems will be resolved before it hinders construction in the city.
"My belief is that we will stay ahead of the curve by the time other developers are ready to come in," he said, "if we move forward with" the Willamette as a water source.
The idea is not to abandon our wells," he also said. "But to have a surface water treatment plant and continue to use our well fields."