The Story We Almost Never Hear

I received a copy of an e-mail yesterday from Diane Taniguchi-Dennis, our former Public Works Director.  Diane is one of the smarter people I know, and her success with Clean Water Services in the Tualatin-Hillsboro area comes as no surprise.  Diane provided the following quick analysis of relative water costs in her message:

This is an article about the City of Tigard and City of Lake Oswego’s new drinking water treatment plant:

The total project is 38 million gallons per day with two million in underground storage at $250 million.  Tigard will have 14 million gallons per day of capacity paying an estimated $127 million for that capacity.  This is compared to Albany’s 12 million gallons per day of capacity with storage at the Joint Water Plant for ~$26 million (if I remember correctly).  Albany did well with that investment at ~$2.17 per gallon as compared to Tigard at $9.07 per gallon.

I wish I had been armed with this information at a social gathering I attended over the weekend.  A friend of ours wondered about how much vacation time I receive each year since she noted that she is paying for it.  I reminded her that her property taxes have gone down the past two years, so she countered with a question about what I was doing to lower water rates.  I advised her to use less if she wanted to pay less.

We are in the luxurious position in Albany at the moment of having as much water as we need at an affordable rate.  “Affordable” is a relative term; but my water bill for last month was about $75, which included watering my lawn every day.  Compared to what I pay for less essential goods and services, my water bill seems like a bargain.  The abundance of our water, its quality, and cost are the result of decisions made more than a decade ago when community leaders in Albany and Millersburg came together to invest in a new water treatment plant.  If they had not, Albany’s old treatment plant could not meet peak demand today and the community would have needed to either find another source or begin limiting water use.  I arrived in Albany just in time to celebrate the opening of that plant, and I am very grateful for the insight, collaboration, and wisdom that led to its construction.

Cities across the United States are rationing water and/or paying an increasingly heavy price to keep up with demand.  Albany’s needs should be secure through 2030 and likely for many years beyond that date.  Community leaders had to make the unpleasant decision to raise rates to pay for the treatment plant with the result that Albany residents will be or are paying much lower amounts than places that delayed the decision.  Most of us probably have an attitude similar to my friend who complained about water costs, but as drought spreads and water becomes scarcer we may want to consider the benefits of living in a place where clean water is still an abundant commodity.