In fewer than 20 years, Willamette River water may flow from faucets and sprinkler heads, fuel businesses and water fountains, and course through a maze of pipes to customers throughout Washington County.
The Hillsboro Utilities Commission will vote on a preferred secondary water source for Oregon’s fifth-largest city on Tuesday.
After a three-year study, the Willamette River near Wilsonville “clearly demonstrated” the best option to meet a water demand that city officials say will be necessary as soon as 2025, according to a staff report.
The majority of Oregon’s residents live within 20 miles of the Willamette, the 13th largest river by volume in the lower 48 states.
More than a decade after Wilsonville opened what was then a controversial plant to tap the mighty river, there is little resistance from environmental advocates or the populace as the suburb plans for the future.
Hillsboro doesn’t have water rights on the river but it does have connections, Water Department Director Kevin Hanway said.
Adair Village, a small city in Benton County north of Corvallis, does have water rights, and Hillsboro has an intergovernmental agreement with Adair Village to acquire water rights, Hanway said.
Cities eyeing the Willamette River for water needs isn’t a new phenomenon, according to Dwight French, water rights division administrator with Oregon’sWater Resources Department.
Municipal water rights are “in perpetuity,” French said. There are about two dozens cities or other government entities with municipal water rights on the river, French said. Adair Village’s rights date back to 1971.
In Hillsboro’s three-year study of alternative water sources, the Willamette was the least expensive option of four heavily-scrutinized sources, and the only one without a negative rating, Hanway said.
Municipal Water Rights on Willamette
Lowell, Corvallis (2 rights), Adair Village, Lake Oswego, Dundee, Salem, Wilsonville, Willamette River Water Coalition, Port of Portland, Millersburg, Independence, Monmouth, Polk County, Canby Utility Board, Harrisburg, Dayton (also held by McMinnville, Carlton, Lafayette, Yamhill)
Source: Oregon Water Resources Department
The department also looked at buying water from Portland, or the Tualatin Basin Water Supply Project that would raise Scoggins Dam by up to 40 feet, and a costly plan to develop ground wells near Scappoose.
Hillsboro currently uses a combination of Tualatin River, Henry Hagg Lake and Barney Reservoir water, but demand is expected to outstrip supply in a dozen years, according to city staff.
The city uses 28.4 million gallons on a peak day, and that’s expected to more than double by 2050. Projections include the 25,000 expected residents in the planned South Hillsboro community as well as additional industrial customers.
Intel’s Ronler Acres campus uses 4.2 million gallons of water a day on average, accounting for two-thirds of the industrial water use citywide. Industrial use is expected to triple by 2050 as the city’s 330-acre North Industrial Area is developed.
“What we saw is what I would expect others to see,” Hanway said of the Willamette: A clean, viable, and reliable water source for cities across the region.
“The question is when”
The Tualatin Valley Water District, the state’s second-largest provider, is also considering the Willamette.
“We’ve always kind of looked at it as a regional source of supply at some point in the future,” Todd Heidgerken, TVWD’s manager of community and intergovernmental relations, said.
“The question is when,” he added.
TVWD anticipates needing to serve another 82,000 people by 2042. Heidgerken said that would require a peak capacity of 70 million gallons per day. The current supply is 54 million gallons, he said.
With more than 200,000 current customers, Heidgerken said the added capacity is necessary by 2026.
TVWD is about two months behind Hillsboro in its planning process, according to Heidgerken, and is looking at the same four options. Its board will discuss progress at an April 24 board meeting.
Heidgerken said while TVWD hasn’t made any decisions or assumptions about a future source, the district already owns water rights on the river through theWillamette River Water Coalition, a group that also includes Tualatin, Tigard and Sherwood.
It already owns a stake in the 30-acre Willamette River Water Treatment Plant at Wilsonville, too, Heidgerken said.
Delora Kerber, Wilsonville Public Works Director, said there would need to be another plant built on the site to meet additional capacity.
Wilsonville’s water permit through the state’s Water Resources Department is for 20 million gallons per day. The Willamette River Coalition has a permit for 130 million gallons a day, Heidgerken said.
Cities drawing hundreds of millions of gallon from the river shouldn’t affect flow, according to Willamette Riverkeeper Executive Director Travis Williams.
“That plant seems to have proven out over the years,” Williams said of the Wilsonville location. Despite occasional gripes about water taste, Williams said he’s heard few issues. He said all the attention to the river could be a good thing environmentally speaking.
“It’s another reason for all of us to collectively figure out how to curb pollution,” he said.
Heidgerken said there’s “a lot of data” on Wilsonville’s water quality, and no red flags.
The project, if pursued, isn’t cheap. Hillsboro estimates a $870 million price tag. TVWD is the logical partner on the project, Hanway said.
Projected costs include 30 years of operational costs as well as the 22-mile pipeline needed to access the plant. “That’s one of those things that’s not easily done,” Heidgerken said.
If approved, Hillsboro’s water department will start looking at acquiring a site for a shared reservoir, and easements needed to build the pipeline, according to a staff report.
The Utilities Commission meets at 1:30 in room C207 of the Hillsboro Civic Center on Feb. 12.