Bend council eyes costlier water treatment option

Majority support $36 million membrane treatment

POSTED: 6:44 PM PDT October 8, 2013    UPDATED: 7:31 PM PDT October 8, 2013 
BEND, Ore. -

Your drinking water is about to cost millions more to keep clean--and Bend city councilors soon will decide just what that bill will be.

City councilors held a work session Tuesday discussing a pair of options to treat the city's surface water. It's been putting off complying with federal regulations to treat the surface water for more than 20 years, getting extensions as it works on a plan.

The city gets about half of its water Bridge Creek and half from groundwater.

"Bend has been dragging its feet," Mayor Jim Clinton said Tuesday. "Bend is about the last in the queue to comply with this rule."

But the big decision now is choosing between an ultraviolet system or membrane filtration to finally get the city in compliance.

Each come at a different price: Ultraviolet, coupled with recommendations of new backup wells would cost about $28 million. A membrane system would push the cost to about $36 million.

There's also one environmental factor weighing on the vote: What a big wildfire could send into the water.

"It's the forest fire issue driving the discussion, unfortunately," said a member of the city's Infrastructure Advisory Committee.

Most city councilors agreed the extra cost of the membrane treatment will give the city more bang for its buck. The  committee found a UV system wouldn't work as well after a forest fire, nor be able to operate when the water is too cloudy.

City leaders said the city can't solely rely on groundwater during the summer months, when water usage reaches its peak  -- the same time of year a wildfire could potentially jeopardize a UV filtration system.

"I think it's important that we not shirk our responsibility to the ratepayers of Bend that we provide the most robust system that we can," Councilor Doug Knight said.

But Clinton said he believes a cheaper option would serve ratepayers better.

"The city has been using the water from the Tumalo (Creek) for 100 years," Clinton said. "There's not been a fire, there's not been a problem, no one has ever gotten sick from the water."

Still the city is moving forward. A formal vote on the favored option is expected later this month.