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Tigard turns the taps on Lake Oswego-Tigard water supply.

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Last week, the city of Tigard quietly passed a major milestone in its years-long project to draw water from the Clackamas River: Residents started drinking it.

On June 9, the city began using water citywide from the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership. Since 2008, the two cities have been working on a plan to draw water to share a joint water supply between the two cities.

Most residents likely haven’t noticed a difference between the water the has provided for years and the new water, but where that water has come from has been a major point of contention with city leaders for years.

Since the city’s founding, Tigard has purchased water wholesale from the city of Portland, but said for years that it wanted access to water of its own.

That changed in 2008 when Tigard and Lake Oswego agreed to join forces on a new water system for both cities. Under their agreement, Lake Oswego would provide the infrastructure and Tigard would pay the lion’s share of upgrading the system to serve both cities.

It’s the largest public infrastructure project in Tigard’s history and has proven to be controversial as water bills rose in both cities to pay for the project. West Linn residents, meanwhile, have objected loudly to years of construction on the Lake Oswego water treatment plant located within their city.

Tigard supplies water to more than 60,000 customers across King City, Durham, Bull Mountain and much of Tigard west of Highway 217. The rest of Tigard’s residents get their water from the Tualatin Valley Water District.

Water will be better quality, city says

Last November, the city began testing water from the partnership with a small neighborhood on Bull Mountain.

John Goodrich, a Tigard utility manager in charge of the city’s water supply, said that the city stopped taking water from the city of Portland on June 9.

“As we go through the next week or so, we’ll be having blended supply as Portland water is consumed and the new water comes into system,” he said.

The partnership, referred to as LOT, is expected to be a big improvement for the city, Goodrich said. In the past few years, Tigard has had a handful of boil water notices and alerts which the city has said stems from problems with the Portland Water Bureau.

“Portland water is very different than LOT water,” Goodrich said. “The change will be a good thing. We anticipate enhanced water quality, including reducing exposure to lead. That comes from using a 21st century water treatment plant and a new water supply system that has no lead used at all in the new supply system.”

Federally mandated tests require the partnership to test older homes for lead and copper contamination in older homes which have copper and lead piping whenever cities begin using new water supplies. Those tests are expected in about 65 homes between September and October.

“It’s very intensive sampling,” Goodrich said. “… That will be baseline test and in six months time, we’ll resample and retest to make sure. We want to make sure we are below the action levels for lead and copper.”

Lake Oswego did similar tests in 2013 on their portion of the system, Goodrich said.

“They found Lake Oswego is an optimized system, based on their water quality reports each year. They have a very low risk of lead and copper based on their sampling,” he said.

Court to hear WRD case next month

Despite last week’s milestone, there’s still some work to do.

Construction continues on some parts of the project and an Oregon court has yet to make its ruling on the project. For years, the project has been in a legal battle with Oregon WaterWatch, which claimed that the project endangered fish in the river.

In 2014, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that the Oregon Water Resources Department needed to provide further evidence and reasoning to show that allowing Lake Oswego to take that much water from the river would not harm protected fish.

Project leaders have said repeatedly that the court’s decision won’t impact the project greatly and has backup plans in place should reduced water withdrawals from the river be required.

A hearing on that topic is expected next month with the Office of Administrative Hearings. It’s unclear when the court will make a ruling on those findings.