EWEB explores ways to provide drinking water if sole plant fails

EWEB relies on a single plant to supply drinking water to 200,000 people. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. - When you turn on the tap, you expect water to come from the faucet.

But what if the sole source of drinking water for 200,000 people was damaged in an earthquake?

Or if a big gasoline spill fouled the water?

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"This is the one thing that keeps me up at night is that we don't have a back up water supply for the community that we serve," Roger Gray, then general manager of Eugene Water and Electric Board, said in 2013.

Gray's lack of sleep led him to push for EWEB to build a second water plant along the Willamette River.

Plans remains on the drawing board.

"A second filtration plant is one of many options that EWEB continues to explore, that we have been working on," spokesperson Joe Harwood said.

In 2017, a price tag of $70 million for a new plant has prompted the current EWEB board to call a time out.

"They've indicated they want to take a pause and take a look at some other options," Harwood said. "There might be some more efficient and cost effective options out there."

The utility pushed ahead this year to buy land for the project in south Glenwood.

But some on the board of directors are worried that even if a new plant can ride out the earthquake, water lines could crumble.

"If you can purify and filter the water but you can't deliver it to homes and businesses, that doesn't do you much good," Harwood said.

So directors are looking at other ideas, which may include more emergency water trailers; a joint project with the Springfield Utility Board; and more.

Also on the table: postponement of the second water plant.

Construction is currently set to begin in 2019.

"The board of commissioners could certainly elect to postpone or defer construction of a second filtration plant," Harwood said.

Such a decision could come by this fall, he said.