City News

Salem gets money from Legislature for increased water capacity

Treatment ponds at Geren Island which ultimately becomes drinking water for Salem residents. Water reaching this point will have already been treated with powdered-activated carbon. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

Salem is getting $20 million in fresh state money to help the city avoid another water crisis like the one that hit the community in 2018.

The money, approved Monday by the Oregon Legislature, will pay for two new wells and piping, and water treatment at Woodmansee Park to lower the acidity in the city’s stored water. The city stores water in a fractured basalt underneath the park after it’s been drawn from the North Santiam River and treated at the Geren Island water treatment facility near Stayton.

Water has been stored at the south Salem park each winter for the last two decades to serve the surrounding neighborhood in the summer when water is scarcer.

“It’s really just a way of enhancing our ability to provide water uninterrupted,” said Peter Fernandez, Salem public works director.

He said the basalt strata has the capacity to store up to a billion gallons of water and by adding wells, it will allow the city to pump more water out, especially if the city’s main water supply is impacted by toxic algae or a fuel spill. At peak water usage times in the summer, the stored water could last Salem about three weeks.

In 2018, toxic algae called cyanotoxins impacted the city’s drinking water supply for the first time in the system’s 80-year history, sending residents into a panic buying bottled water. As a result, the city is expected to complete work on a $46 million ozone treatment plant at Geren Island this spring to attack microbes in the water in the event of another algal bloom.

“If we find ourselves in a situation where we have something that happens at the plant, then this is another source of water for us,” Fernandez said of the Woodmansee project.

The improvements at Woodmansee are currently being designed and are expected to take about two years to complete.

Fernandez said the water at Woodmansee will be treated for pH levels so it’s less acidic and doesn’t leach lead from old plumbing.

“The water is already clean. We’re just polishing it up a bit,” he said.

Fernandez said as Salem’s watershed experiences more issues like warming water, wildfires and aging dams, treating the water to make it potable requires more resources.

The money from the Legislature includes $1 million for Turner to construct a new pump station, so Salem can serve Turner with water from the Franzen Reservoir. 

Update 8/12 1:42 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect the cost of the ozone treatment plant.

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