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EWEB eyes second water source on the Willamette River

A woman and a man stand on a grassy hill above the Willamette River.
Karen Richards
Karen Kelley and Wally McCullough stand near where EWEB's water treatment plant will be built, above the intake site on the Willamette River, below.

The Eugene Water and Electric Board has been looking for a source of water to augment its intake on the McKenzie River for decades.

The utility purchased land near the confluence of the Willamette River and the Coast Fork several years ago, and is starting the years-long process of getting the rights and permits to build there.

EWEB Chief Operations Officer Karen Kelley told KLCC the project is meant to add resiliency.

“During the Holiday Farm Fire," she said, "the evacuation zone was immediately across the river from our one and only treatment plant. And if we did have to evacuate that plant, or if we would’ve lost that plant, I couldn’t even tell you how long it would take for us to meet the needs of the city.”

Kelley said a second plant will allow the utility to switch sources in case of a spill or mechanical issue. Plus, the new plant will be designed to come back online within 24 hours of a seismic event, which the old plant cannot do.

Water Engineering Supervisor Wally McCullough said the project is expected to cost about $100 million.

“So, it's expensive," he said, "and costs are going up, so that’s something we’re going to be navigating through over the next several years. And Funding? It’ll be a combination of rates, water rates, and bonds, municipal bonds. And we’re constantly seeking outside funding for this. There could be some federal grants and loans, state grants and loans.”

McCullough said EWEB’s water rates are the second lowest in the Pacific Northwest for a utility its size, and when the project is done, rates will likely be about the fourth lowest. He said Eugene is one of the largest utilities in the region without a second water source.

Completion is still in the distant future. Federal permitting is expected to take until early 2026, with construction to start after that. The plant may be up and working in about 10 years.

Karen Richards joined KLCC as a volunteer reporter in 2012, and became a freelance reporter at the station in 2015. In addition to news reporting, she’s contributed to several feature series for the station, earning multiple awards for her reporting.