Lake Oswego, Tigard officials celebrate completion of water project
More than 100 elected officials, City staff and project contractors from Lake Oswego and Tigard gathered last week to celebrate the rebuilding of a water treatment plant in West Linn that marks the official completion of the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership.
"Today we have the opportunity to look back at this accomplishment," said Tigard Mayor John Cook. "But more importantly, it's an opportunity to look at a bright future for our citizens. I could not be more satisfied with our achievement."
The partnership was officially formed in 2008, but Lake Oswego and Tigard had been talking about the possibility of a joint project since 2005. Each city had a problem it needed to solve: Tigard was using municipal water purchased from Portland and seeking a way to secure its own supply; and Lake Oswego had an existing water supply from the Clackamas River, but its aging infrastructure needed a full-scale overhaul to keep up with the city's growing population.
"The business case for a partnership was clear," said Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker.
The two cities struck a deal in which Tigard would pay slightly more than half the cost of upgrading the Lake Oswego system in order to gain an ownership stake, and the new system would be built to supply water to both cities. Tigard made the switch earlier this year, just before its previous contract with the City of Portland expired.
"We're really glad to be an owner now, rather than a renter," Cook said.
The partnership hasn't been entirely without controversy. The bulk of the $254 million project was funded through water rate increases in both cities, which led to some pushback from residents. And escalating costs led to some concern among City of Lake Oswego officials in 2012 as the project prepared to begin construction.
West Linn voters were furious when the City Council there voted to allow the expansion of the water treatment plant. All along the pipeline, noisy construction had angry neighbors demanding compensation, and drivers who had to navigate months of jarring installation work on Highway 43 were pretty unhappy, too.
In addition, a lawsuit filed by an Oregon advocacy group called WaterWatch called into question the amount of water scheduled to be drawn from the Clackamas River, saying that permits issued by the Oregon Water Resources Department could allow Lake Oswego and other nearby water agencies to collectively draw too much water from the river and threaten endangered species of native fish.
There's also a lingering question of control. While the two cities enjoy joint ownership of the water supply system, it's currently managed day to day by City staff in Lake Oswego. That arrangement was chosen during the project's construction because Lake Oswego already had staff operating the system's predecessor. But now that the project is finished, the Tigard City Council has put forth a unanimous call for the cities to form a joint agency to manage the facilities and staff instead.
The two city councils still need to come to an agreement about a long-term management plan, but officials say there's no rush — the project will continue to serve both cities no matter who manages day-to-day operations.
None of those issues were the focus of last week's event, of course. Instead, dignitaries gathered simply to celebrate their joint accomplishment. Work on various pieces of the project commenced in spring 2013 and was completed in summer 2017, and the new system has now been serving Clackamas River water to both Lake Oswego and Tigard since 2016.
"This multi-year, multi-jurisdictional program is no small feat," said Project Director Joel Komarek.
Komarek discussed the project's lengthy development time — five years of planning followed by more than four years of construction work. He thanked all of the project's staff and contractors, and singled out treatment plant manager Kari Duncan and her staff for keeping the old plant operational even as the new one was constructed in the same space.
"She and her staff ensured the project's success and kept the water flowing," he said.
The entire project involved upgrading and constructing five major facilities across four cities: a river-intake pump station on the Clackamas River in Gladstone; a 3.5-million-gallon Waluga Reservoir in Lake Oswego; a Bonita pump station in Tigard; and the water treatment plant in West Linn that hosted last week's party.
In addition, more than 10 miles of large-diameter pipeline was installed — some of it under the Willamette River — to serve as the backbone of the new water system.
The treatment plant in West Linn was completely rebuilt, giving it the capacity to treat up to 38 million gallons per day; a new ozone treatment process; and seismic resilience that should allow it to survive a Cascadia-type earthquake. The upgraded plant sits atop 1,150 concrete piles driven nearly 50 feet into the ground.
Studebaker touted the seismic upgrades when he addressed the crowd last week, saying that they ensured that residents of Lake Oswego and Tigard can count on a water supply even after a cataclysmic earthquake.
"The investment in building an earthquake-resilient water system has a return that's even greater than money," he said.