At groundbreaking, Merkley lauds new Gresham water system

GRESHAM, Ore. (KOIN) – Gresham officials celebrated Tuesday as the city and Rockwood Water People’s Utility District broke ground on an expanded groundwater system. 

The goal of the project is to create up to five new groundwater wells that will provide residents in Gresham and East Portland with clean drinking water for decades to come. 

“Our goal is to have 26 million gallons of water in service by 2025, one that we own and operate. That’s enough water for communities today and far into the future,” said Tom Lewis, board president of RWPUD. 

The maximum daily demand for water in Gresham and RWPUD is approximately 21 million gallons. The new system could expand enough to produce up to 42 million gallons of water a day. 

Gresham Mayor Travis Stovall spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday and said the new system will also be more resilient to future earthquakes. 

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., was also at the event Tuesday. He said Gresham’s new system will be the envy of the region. 

“In various parts of the state where I’ve been recently, wells are drying up. Groundwater has been pumped and pumped and pumped forever, they don’t have an aquifer like Gresham has that’s being replenished through the Columbia River system,” he said. 

The City of Gresham says the project will cost $120 million. Of that, $58.8 million will be funded by a low-interest loan from the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which Merkley created in 2014 and which Congress signed into law in 2016. 

Merkley saw the Gresham project as an example of what he hoped to accomplish with the passage of the bill. 

“There’s now funding there for communities, like Gresham, to apply nationwide and be able to save a lot of money,” Merkley said. 

Lewis from RWPUD said the low interest on the loan will save ratepayers a significant amount of money in the years to come, compared to the interest rate on other loans. The rest of the project will be funded by a bond loan, Lewis told KOIN 6 News. 

The project will involve building a new 6-million gallon reservoir at the Rockwood facility, a secondary transmission main and a new groundwater treatment system.