Wed, Feb

Two-Pipe System with Fresh, Recycled Water Taps into Future

The water district that serves Oregon's fast-growing Happy Valley and the newly formed city of Damascus is borrowing an idea from the arid Southwest -- recycled wastewater.

The water district that serves Oregon's fast-growing Happy Valley and the newly formed city of Damascus is borrowing an idea from the arid Southwest -- recycled wastewater.

A community at the foot of Mount Hood might seem like the last place to slake its thirst with anything but fresh runoff. But Sunrise Water Authority has limited rights to draw from the Clackamas River, and it expects demand to rise 400 percent over the next 20 years as thousands of acres transition from rural to urban.

Its solution? Purple pipes.

Sunrise is starting to build what might be the first two-pipe water-transmission system to serve a Northwest city. One pipe is for drinking water. The other, colored purple to set it apart, will deliver treated wastewater or untreated well water to farmers, industrial firms and others.

"It's technically feasible, and it's environmentally friendly, and it addresses concerns about taking water out of the Clackamas," said John Thomas, Sunrise general manager. In the long run, Sunrise hopes to fill 10 percent of its summertime demand through recycled wastewater, an idea that cities throughout the West are starting to embrace.

The WateReuse Foundation estimates that at least 200 communities west of the Mississippi use reclaimed wastewater for various purposes.

Nationwide use of recycled water is expected to double in five years, according to the American Water Works Association. "The good thing about water reuse is it's pretty much drought-proof," said Jack Hoffbuhr, the association's executive director.

In theory, everyone wins.

A fast-growing part of Clackamas County increases its water supply. Some commercial customers could pay less. And a healthier-flowing Clackamas River benefits endangered fish and recreational users.

Lake Oswego, Oregon City, Milwaukie and other cities all rely on the Clackamas River for drinking water, putting water providers at odds with environmental groups and efforts to protect the river and its wild salmon run.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Lisa Brown, a staff attorney with Water Watch, a river conservation group. "There's clearly much more that needs to be done to ensure that our use of (the Clackamas) doesn't ruin it and further damage the salmon and steelhead that depend on it."

Several Oregon wastewater agencies recycle water on a small scale.

Sandy pumps water to a nursery. Prineville waters a golf course. Silverton irrigates the Oregon Garden.

Clean Water Services, which serves urban Washington County, diverts 10 percent or more of its treated wastewater to golf courses, schools and wetlands in the summer, said Mark Poling, who oversees the program. But without an extensive delivery system, Clean Water Services can't deliver to any business or institutional customers, Poling said.

"The thing that makes this different is you have a drinking water agency taking the lead," said Kim Anderson, Sunrise's purple-pipe project manager.

Installing a dual-pipe system in advance of development makes financial sense for Sunrise. As a web of new roads and underground utilities spreads across undeveloped land, it is relatively inexpensive -- about $130,000 to $185,000 a mile -- to add one more waterline.

An ability to plan for growth is one of the benefits of Oregon's approach to land-use planning. In 2002, as part of the largest expansion of the urban growth boundary in Oregon history, the rural Damascus area of Clackamas County was designated to become a city of 60,000 over the next 20 years.

As the area grows, the county is likely to expand its wastewater treatment system, and with purple pipes in the ground, that would increase Sunrise's future water supply.

"Every drop we reuse is a drop we didn't take out of the river," said Ted Kyle, Clackamas County's wastewater department's chief planner.

Sunrise started installing a large loop of purple pipes last year. Eventually the line will circle large commercial and residential projects that will be built east of Happy Valley. The water will irrigate three parks, a schoolyard and greenways but won't be available to residential customers. It could also be used to keep office buildings cool or for businesses such as carwashes.

Reclaimed water won't start flowing until mid-2007, when Sunrise begins a demonstration project, including a small plant that will treat wastewater and pipe it to the new subdivision.

Another potential customer: Providence Health System, which plans to build a Happy Valley medical center with as many as 2,600 employees.

Hospitals use a lot of water. "Many of the functions within the hospital could be served with reclaimed water: toilet flushing, laundry services, grounds maintenance," Anderson said.

"The biggest question is, 'Can they make it pay?' " said Lorna Stickel, who manages a coalition of Portland-area water providers.

Sunrise officials say the answer is yes.

"Is it cost-effective today? Probably not," Thomas said. "But five to 10 years from now it may be."

Even if Sunrise doesn't use the purple-pipe network right away, "it's a smart way to go," said Poling of Clean Water Services. "It keeps options open for the future."

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News