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Your EWEB Rates at Work: Investing Today for a Resilient Tomorrow

November 03, 2023 Jen Connors, EWEB Communications

Smiling EWEB worker

Can you crack this riddle?

I am all around you, but you seldom notice me. You rely on me nearly every moment of every day. In fact, without me, businesses would fold, schools would close, and people would get sick. And yet, you rarely even need to give me a thought. What am I?

The solution: Utility infrastructure.

From power plants to distribution and transmission lines, substations and transformers, pipes, reservoirs, and pump stations — utility infrastructure is critical to quality of life, public safety, economic vitality, and so much more. 

For more than a century, EWEB has planned, built, and maintained the systems that deliver safe, reliable, and environmentally responsible power and water to Eugene homes and businesses — approximately 8.5 billion gallons of drinking water and 2.4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year.

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. Closer to home, electricity was in short supply for several days in August 2023, as temperatures crested 100 degrees for four days in a row and several regional electricity generators were shut down due wildfire conditions, including EWEB’s Carmen-Smith Hydroelectric Project. In the past few years, neighboring communities like Junction City, Mapleton, and Salem have experienced water infrastructure crises leading to shortages and Boil Water Advisories.

At the same time, other risks loom.

In the last decade, new science on the Cascadia Subduction Zone has emerged indicating that a magnitude 9 earthquake could strike the Pacific Northwest at any time, disrupting electricity, water, and other public services for weeks or even months. The Oregon Resilience Plan, a report issued in 2013 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 before the earthquake threat was fully understood and in an era when our community’s needs and the technologies to meet them were 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.

Much of EWEB’s water and electric infrastructure is also approaching the end of its useful life at the same time. Most of 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 that requires massive investment.

A new era of responsible 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 by customer rates, we are in a new era of responsible 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 by using modern strategies to protect systems from extreme weather events and earthquakes. We are designing and building systems so they adapt under uncertain future conditions.

resiliency: noun

1. The capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

2. The stable trajectory of healthy functioning after a highly adverse event; flexibility.

Earlier this year, EWEB’s elected Board of Commissioners adopted a resiliency policy to formalize a utility-wide commitment to embed resiliency in operations, processes, and decision making.

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.

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. Everyone in the community is a co-owner of $1.3 billion 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.

Learn more about how your rates and set and where your money goes.