McKenzie River drinking water ranks high again
May 4, 2023 | View PDF
The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) met drinking water safety standards in 2022 for every type of contaminant regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Oregon Health Authority.
EWEB produces more than 23 million gallons of drinking water every day. The utility has never failed to meet the standards.
Toxic chemicals from agricultural, urban development, waste disposal, and forestry practices can get into groundwater, lakes, and rivers, contaminating water for humans, animals, and aquatic plants.
The EPA recently proposed new regulations for water utilities to test for PFAS chemicals. Though the regulations have yet to take effect, EWEB is already in compliance. The utility has been testing for PFAS since 2013 and has not found any of the forever chemicals in the water drawn from EWEB’s intake on the McKenzie River, nor in the treated water EWEB delivers to customers.
“EWEB follows the multiple barrier approach to safe drinking water,” said EWEB Chief Operations Officer Karen Kelley. “That begins with protecting water at the source — the McKenzie River — and progresses through filtration, disinfection, distribution, storage, and sampling of the water throughout the entire process before we deliver it to homes and businesses across Eugene.”
For decades EWEB has worked with partners in the McKenzie River watershed to protect Eugene’s sole source of drinking water from contamination and degradation. But climate change and aging infrastructure are increasing the dangers to drinking water.
“Hotter, dryer summers raise the risk of wildfire, harmful algal blooms, and drought, all of which have the potential to impact our source water and require new and ongoing investment in water protection, monitoring, and treatment,” Kelley said. “At the same time, much of Eugene’s water infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life and needs to be upgraded or replaced.”
Ensuring safe drinking water requires robust investments in the watershed where that water originates, the treatment infrastructure that purifies it, and the storage and delivery systems that ensure it comes out of the tap. Community members today benefit from investments made in this system by customers decades ago. Now, EWEB is investing in projects that will benefit future generations by making the community’s water supply more resilient.
With the risk of a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake looming in the Pacific Northwest, EWEB is prioritizing investing in infrastructure so it meets modern standards for earthquake safety. In 2021 EWEB started construction on new earthquake-proof water tanks near E. 40th and Patterson Street in south Eugene. When that project is completed later this year, EWEB will move on to replacing the 80-year-old College Hill Reservoir with new seismically resilient storage.
In the near future, EWEB plans to make another major investment in water reliability by building a new water treatment plant on the Willamette River, giving Eugene a crucial second source of water.
“Of the 20 largest cities in the Northwest, Eugene is the only one with a single source of drinking water,” Kelley said. “Accessing the Willamette River as a second source is an important next step to ensure we can provide drinking water to our customers in case an emergency impacts the Hayden Bridge Filtration Plant or the McKenzie River.”