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Regional Interests

New survey shows water infrastructures across Oregon need billions of dollars of improvement

The League of Oregon Cities partnered with Portland State University to survey water supply and quality throughout the state. They found decades of backlogged water infrastructure needs, and cities across Oregon are struggling to pay the price.

Tracy Rutten is with the League of Oregon Cities. She says state and federal governments should step in and offer funding.

“There are a lot of communities that are already having citizens that are feeling the financial stress of those increased water and sewer rates,” said Rutten. “So I think they’re really finding themselves in a tough position of, do you continue to increase those rates to try and finance this really important and necessary infrastructure locally?”

Rutten said smaller and lower income communities are hit especially hard by rising utility costs. She thinks federal and state governments should help bridge the gap between what local utilities can afford and what low-income residents can pay.

“A lot of our cities have established their own water rate or sewer rate assistance programs,” said Rutten. “But for a community that is lower income or has a really small population, you’re kind of taking out of the existing water rates only to put back as assistance for low income. So it doesn’t always make sense to do it locally.”

The League of Oregon Cities report assumes that the need for affordable drinking water will increase in coming years, particularly in areas prone to earthquakes. The survey identified approximately $23 billion in statewide water infrastructure costs over the next 20 years — which would be a nearly impossible bill for local governments to cover alone.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting