Make the McKenzie Connection!

Opponents question EWEB's smart meter upgrades

Some fear hazards to health and electrical grid’s hacker vulnerbility

EUGENE: Plans that have been in the works for decades were opposed by several people who testified at last week’s meeting of the Eugene Water & Electric Board. Some, like Eugene realtor Kathy Ging were critical of letters sent from the utility’s legal counsel since January that she said threatened to cut off electrical service to ratepayers who opposed the installation of wireless smart meters on their homes.

Ging went on to say she felt “EWEB has declared war on ratepayers” who have concerns ranging from radio or microwave radiation to impacts on people who have disabilities are otherwise impacted.

Cindy Allen told the board other states have opt-out programs for customers with health concerns and were concerned with “DC/AC” switching employed by the meters. She also pointed to recent warnings from the director of the FBI related to the potential hacking of smart meters to sabotage the United States electrical grid.

Utility general manager Frank Lawson responded that the meters “are an asset of the utility, which it operates and maintains.” There are legal precedents, he added, that maintain the owner of a property does not get to choose the type of meter and “having a metering device is a condition of service.”

Lawson noted the utility had been evaluating smart meters as “part of a public process for 26 years, not just in town but eventually up the McKenzie Valley.” Advantages, he said, include their ability to transmit usage activity without a meter reader going on-site and “essentially operating as a digital meter when not communicating.”

The McKenzie area was the focus of EWEB’s annual Watershed Report which included an overview of $4.5 million in restoration activities in 2023. The largest expenditures, amounting to $2.7 million, were earmarked for restoration efforts ranging from water quality monitoring and landowner outreach to erosion control and fuel reduction.

The report notes that 3 years after the Holiday Farm Fire, the Pure Water Partners (PWP) Program has worked with several landowners by conducting property assessments to evaluate opportunities for replanting in riparian areas, invasive species control, fire fuels reduction, erosion control, and naturescaping. Participants sign 7-year agreements that allow work to be completed on their properties and maintained over time In addition, EWEB has brought in $10.7 million to fund fuel reduction, replanting, and large floodplain restoration projects.

Other work will distribute up to $3 million in septic system assistance grant funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

In 2023, partners including the McKenzie Watershed Council (MWC), the McKenzie River Trust (MRT), and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) completed the Finn Rock Phase II project and is continuing designs for similar restoration work on Quartz Creek. The report cites benefits from mitigating floods and turbidity, helping “increase nutrients and organic carbon coming from upstream severely burned landscapes, storing water, increasing habitat for fish and wildlife, increasing resiliency to wildfire, and increasing cold water refugia.”

The 2019 State of the McKenzie Watershed Report anticipated “that climate change impacts in the McKenzie will show up as extreme weather events (including flooding, drought, and loss of snowpack), resulting in increased wildfires, harmful algal blooms, and property damage in riparian and floodplain areas.”

That prediction anticipated the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire, which combined with another round of wildfires in the Upper McKenzie area is expected to have significant impacts on the river basin.

The report also pointed to wastewater releases and hazardous material spills as high-priority threats to water quality. Several spills, mostly minor, were recorded in the watershed in 2023, including a semi-truck crash near Finn Rock.


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