Water works: City opts out of hydropower

The city of Hood River dropped the idea of producing hydroelectric power after weighing the cost and risk ratio on Jan. 28.

Although the energy plant could have saved water customers about $3.45 per month, the city council was unwilling to spend more than $3 million to bring the project online when it was unclear whether environmental hurdles could be overcome.

In turn, the council decided Monday to go ahead with a water main reconstruction project that will cost more than $6 million.

Last summer officials decided to include a study of hydropower generation in its planning for a new water transmission main.

BERGER/ABAM Engineers of Portland was hired with $580,833 of federal grant funding to investigate that possibility while designing the reconstruction of a 73-year-old pipe. That aging line runs a stretch of about 17 miles from the five million reservoir on Riverdale Drive to the city's water source near Lost Lake.

Dave Bick, consulting engineer, tabulated that it would cost the city about $1.2 million more to install the 24-inch transmission line necessary to feed the project. He also figured it would cost about $2 million to build the plant and another $80,000 per year for its operation. He said the city could possibly sell the 1,000 to 1,500 kilowatts of power it produced to Pacific Power for about four cents each -- but that also wasn't a certainty in today's fluctuating energy market. Another unknown factor was the cost and probability of acquiring private property easements near Schaeffer's Crossing, the preferred site near the Hood River.

"I don't know if this is feasible to pursue and I'm not comfortable recommending that you spend more money on this," said Beck at the conclusion of his Jan. 28 presentation to the council.

After deciding not to pursue the issue further, the council directed Bick to make the final adjustments for replacement of the water transmission line. Mark Lago, city public works director, said it will cost about $6.2 million to reconstruct a 20-inch main line that will most likely be several miles longer by the time it is rerouted. He said for maintenance efficiency the line needs to run along public right-of-ways since it currently crosses orchard property and even runs under a private residence at one point.

"We need to make the pipe accessible at every point," said Lago.

The city is currently seeking low-interest loans and grant dollars for that work, which is anticipated to begin in the fall of 2003. According to Lago, until the city recently raised its water rates it was difficult for the municipality to qualify for that funding since it was unable to prove it could meet an expanded debt load.

Lago said in recent years the aging transmission line has sustained at least several breaks a year. However, he said that situation has been temporarily relieved by allowing gravity to control the flow of water instead of using a pressurized system. That fix will not work indefinitely, said Lago, and has the added disadvantage of greatly reducing the water pressure for customers. The new line will not only remedy that problem but is expected to meet population growth needs for the next 55 years.

"We really need to do something about this line in the immediate future," said Lago.

He said another aging water main is creating problems for a three mile run alongside Methodist and Markham roads. Lago said the city will also be looking toward its replacement soon since the public works crew had to fix 10 separate breaks last year -- which took time away from other duties and added overtime costs.

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At the Monday meeting, Beck was also asked to bring options before the council on Feb. 25 for fluoridation of the city's water system. In an efficiency move, the city tabled that proposal by Councilor Charles Haynie last summer until that data could be compiled in conjunction with the water line replacement study.

In preliminary estimates, Lago figured that it would cost the city about $40,000 to build and equip a treatment plant that would serve 5,920 residents out of a total county-wide population of 20,411. He also figured that the city would spend $11,000 annually for fluoride supplies and would need to hire a part-time employee to perform monitoring and testing at a cost of about $27,400 per year.

Once the council has more conclusive data, it will decide whether to pursue water fluoridation and, it that idea is approved, determine a plan of action, including whether to place the controversial issue on an election ballot.

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