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Could a Water Crisis Happen Here?

June 21, 2021

filling a glas of water from the tap

A disruption last week at a major chlorine producer in Longview, Wash., created a chlorine and caustic soda supply shortage that has affected water and wastewater utilities in Oregon and along the West Coast. Thanks to a decision in 2019 to replace EWEB's chlorine disinfection system with a safer, more resilient process that produces disinfectant on-site, Eugene residents are unlikely to see any impacts of the shortage. Still, the event has many EWEB customers wondering, could a water crisis happen here, and what is EWEB doing to protect our community's drinking water?  

For more than 100 years, we have reliably served the community with clean, healthy water drawn from the mountain-fed McKenzie River. But there's always the possibility that a natural or human-caused disaster could affect us here in Eugene. Emergencies that could lead to a water supply shortage include earthquake, prolonged drought, forest fire in our watershed, severe flood, a chemical spill into the McKenzie River, and a system or facility failure.

Communities around the country have experienced crises similar to these. Earlier this year, a massive grid failure in Texas left millions without drinking water for more than a week. In 2018, a toxic algae bloom in Detroit Lake forced Salem city officials to warn parents of young children and medically vulnerable adults not to drink from the tap. Closer to home, the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire came close to threatening EWEB's Hayden Bridge Water Filtration Plant and caused extensive damage to the watershed that provides drinking water to around 200,000 people in Eugene.  

If something happens to disrupt our water supply or distribution systems, there is only a one- or two-day supply of water stored in reservoirs throughout the community.

That's why, just as your household invests in an emergency kit, EWEB is making investments to prepare, replace and maintain our community's water system. We have invested more than $35 million upgrading and expanding our Hayden Bridge Water Filtration Plant in the past decade. We are replacing water mains, improving pump stations, building new storage tanks, planning for a second filtration plant on the Willamette River, and developing neighborhood emergency water stations

It's easy to take drinking water for granted. We don't often think about what we can't see, like the infrastructure behind our taps: the treatment facility, water pipelines, pumps, and storage reservoirs. But these complex construction and engineering projects reliably deliver clean water to our homes and businesses around the clock, and continued investment is needed to ensure uninterrupted delivery of safe, high-quality drinking water.  

As we continue to care for our critical infrastructure, we are also working to protect the source of our drinking water—the McKenzie River and its surrounding watershed.

To protect from the effects of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), we actively monitor multiple locations in the watershed for cyanotoxins. If toxins are detected, EWEB can treat the drinking water thanks to a new biofilter at the Hayden Bridge Filtration Plant that employs beneficial bacteria that consume algal toxins.

In the aftermath of the Holiday Farm Fire, EWEB and our Pure Water Partners are replanting riparian areas that burned, installing erosion control measures, and providing funds to incentivize people to rebuild their homes and septic systems farther back from the river to reduce the risks of flooding and contamination. Customers will help to fund these and other restoration projects through a temporary Watershed Recovery Fee beginning in July 2021.

We are fortunate in Eugene to enjoy exceptional drinking water. For over a century, our community has benefitted from a pristine watershed, abundant supply, and safe and reliable delivery to homes and businesses. None of this has happened by accident. Generations before us made smart, sustainable decisions so that we can enjoy safe, clean drinking water today. And today, customers continue to express a clear and unchanging priority—ensuring safe, reliable drinking water remains the most important EWEB program.

Emergency preparedness is a shared responsibility

We are taking steps to ensure safe, reliable water continues to flow in our community. You can do your part by building an emergency supply kit for your household.  

If a natural or man-made disaster occurs, you can rest easier knowing you are better prepared with a household emergency kit. Putting together your own kit is simple and easy, and it begins with having on hand a minimum of one gallon of water per person per day for drinking and basic sanitation. The Oregon Office of Emergency Management encourages residents to be prepared to be on their own for a minimum of two weeks.  

For tips and resources on building an emergency kit, visit eweb.org/emergencyprep and join our Pledge to Prepare.