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Every week is Infrastructure Week

May 17, 2023 Jen Connors, EWEB Communications

Construction at EWEB's currin substation

National Infrastructure Week (May 14-20) may be a politically charged quip on the national stage, but for EWEB, the urgency and importance of infrastructure is no joke. 

Infrastructure is critical to quality of life, public safety, economic vitality, and so much more. But the electric grid and drinking water systems we all rely on are threatened by age, natural disasters, and climate change.

Recurrent heat waves and prolonged droughts are creating conditions for more frequent wildfires and impact our rivers that provide drinking water and power generation. Extreme weather events can lead to higher demand for electricity, stressing our energy systems, as demonstrated by the February 2021 ice storm in Texas and September 2022 heat wave in California that nearly caused rolling blackouts.

As the consequences of climate change continue to unfurl season after season, other risks loom.

In the last decade, new science on the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake has emerged indicating that electricity, water, and other public services could be disrupted for weeks or even months following a severe earthquake. The Oregon Resilience Plan, a report issued by the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission, paints a chilling picture of what Oregon might look like after such an earthquake, describing Cascadia as “Oregon’s Greatest Natural Threat.”

Much of the infrastructure our community relies on for vital services was built in an era of needs and technologies that are very different from today. As an example, Eugene’s base level water tanks, which store 55 million gallons of drinking water, were constructed before modern seismic standards were created. And most of our community’s electric and water infrastructure — the pipes, poles, substations, power plants, and other facilities that serve all Eugene homes and businesses — were built in the 1960s and 70s during a time of rapid population growth for Eugene. As a result, EWEB is dealing with a bubble of aging infrastructure — projects and equipment that are reaching their end of life all at once and now require massive investment.

A new era of infrastructure investment

EWEB is already taking steps to mitigate these risks and ensure our customers have clean, safe, reliable water and power, even as critical infrastructure ages and new challenges arise.

Thanks to a robust capital budget, funded in part by customer rates, we are in a new era of infrastructure investment — rebuilding and modernizing the equipment and facilities that deliver your power and water.

Here are a few of the major projects planned or underway:

Investing today for a resilient tomorrow

How we plan, design, and execute these infrastructure projects today will shape Eugene’s future. EWEB is prioritizing resiliency — using modern strategies to protect systems from earthquakes and other natural disasters, and to allow those systems to adapt to uncertain future conditions.

An example of resilient infrastructure planning is EWEB’s approach to building new water storage. Over the next decade, we are replacing Eugene’s three massive tanks that were built between the 1930s and 1960s with six smaller tanks. This distributed approach makes it easier for us to take one tank offline for repairs, providing operational flexibility while making our system more resilient to disruption. 

water storage tanks under construction in Eugene

These water storage tanks, substations and other critical power and water facilities are being constructed to modern seismic standards, to withstand a Cascadia earthquake. No infrastructure is entirely protected from disasters, but by prioritizing resiliency we can reduce the likelihood, magnitude, and duration of disruptive events. The new Willamette River water treatment plant, for example, will be designed to come back online within 24 hours of an earthquake. 

These investments are vital to meet the growing demands of our community and to fortify our electric grid and drinking water systems against the challenges posed by climate change and other risks. 

Your rates keep the lights on and the water flowing 

As Eugene’s publicly owned utility for 112 years, EWEB has a long history of investing in our community. Our infrastructure includes everything from power plants to distribution and transmission lines, from substations to transformers, from pipes and reservoirs to pump stations. It’s a complex system that requires investment and maintenance to provide constant, reliable power and water.

Today we are stewards of our community’s $1.3 billion worth of assets that deliver clean, safe, and reliable power and drinking water. As an EWEB customer, you own and help fund that infrastructure. When you pay your EWEB bill, you’re not just paying for the electricity and water you used, you are investing in the health, safety, livability, and economic future of your community.

Related Programs

Water Reliablity Projects
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We're making investments to prepare, replace and maintain our community's water system.

Electric reliability projects
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EWEB's 10-year Capital Improvement Plan for major infrastructure investments to rehabilitate, replace, and install new infrastructure will ensure we meet the current and future needs of our community, while maintaining reliable service. 

Budget and Rate Information
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After five years of stable prices, EWEB will likely need rate increases in 2022 to support utility operations and continued investments. However maintaining affordability will always be an important principle.