Board directs staff to postpone Willamette filtration plant and pursue emergency water supply program

The emergency water supply program would include several permanent distribution sites located throughout the community using groundwater wells, as well as mobile water trailers.

Management received clear direction from the board at last week’s meeting: when it comes to disaster planning and recovery, EWEB’s first priority should be emergency water distribution. The guidance represents a change of course for the utility, at least in the short term, as plans to build a water filtration plant on the Willamette River will now be put on hold.

After receiving a water permit on the Willamette River, the water utility has been moving ahead with plans to construct a second filtration plant in case a natural or human-caused disaster compromises our water source or Hayden Bridge filtration plant operation. The board adopted a three percent water rate increase in 2014 for projects related to a second water source. In 2015, commissioners approved an updated Water Master Plan that included a filtration plant on the Willamette, and since then the water utility has purchased land for both the intake and the plant and completed much of the preliminary design for the plant, with the goal of beginning construction in 2019 and having the plant up and running by 2022.

However, the board began signaling concerns about the new filtration plant at a strategic planning work session in May 2017. Commissioners are cautious about a single, large investment that may or may not be capable of delivering water to our community following a major disaster such as a Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake.

Last week, the board gave staff a green light to redirect efforts toward a diverse, less expensive, and more expeditious solution.

An emergency water supply program would focus on developing our capabilities to deliver water at a number of permanent distribution sites designated as Community Points of Distribution (CPOD). These CPODs were identified by the county as the locations where emergency resources including food, medical aid and shelter would be available following a disaster.

The water would come from existing or new wells—a handful of schools, including Sheldon and North Eugene already have existing wells and others have pending water rights for wells. Each distribution site would be configured as a joint water and electric facility with the following infrastructure:

•An existing, new, or refurbished well
•A water treatment system
•A standby generator systemA microgrid system to provide reliable standby power
•A building to house piping and equipment

This solution would supplement other emergency supply efforts already underway, including:

•Portable treatment trailer – We have purchased the components and plan to start construction on a treatment trailer later this year.
•Water distribution trailers – We currently have three trailers than can be hooked up to a functioning, pressurized potable water supply and deliver water from 100 nozzles.
•Delivered water – We currently have one 500-gallon and two 2,000-gallon blivets (a collapsible rubber bladder used to transport liquids) ready for deployment.

Commissioners directed staff to work with school districts, public agencies, other utilities and perhaps private industry to identify ground wells and other potential water sources, and indicated a sense of urgency to develop an emergency water supply program as soon as possible.

“Thousands of lives depend on our ability to deliver drinking water in short-order following a disaster,” said Commissioner John Brown.

While commissioners indicated continued interest in a second filtration plant on the Willamette at some point in the future, they instructed staff to postpone planning and funding for that work at this time. Last month, the Board directed staff to move forward with planning a 2018 budget that assumes the utility will rescind the three percent water rate increase that took effect in 2015.

“I think we need a better sense for what we’re trying to mitigate with a new plant,” said Commissioner Dick Helgeson. “There are lots of scenarios—fire in the watershed, hazardous spills, breaking of transmission lines—and the solutions can vary depending on our assessment of those individual risks.”

Commissioners seem to be open to postponing construction on the plant for anywhere from three to 10 years, and also indicated willingness to consider a smaller, scaled-back plant that could be designed to operate only in a disaster situation.

Staff committed to bring back a matrix of risks and strategies for future discussion with the board, which will be used to determine the timing, size and funding for a future Willamette filtration plant.

Postponing the second plant also will give staff additional time to explore potential partnerships with other utilities or agencies on a second plant. General Manager Frank Lawson indicated he has already begun discussions with Springfield Utility Board about jointly developing a water treatment plant, with the next step being a feasibility analysis.

“There are roles the Willamette plant will play with respect to disaster recovery and other scenarios, but we have heard feedback from the board that we need to focus on life safety and show progress and results at a faster pace,” said Frank. “Through partnerships with schools and other utilities, we can implement an alternative water source and a water reliability plan in a way that gives us the most flexibility and the quickest results.”