The Hillsboro Herald attended the Hillsboro Water Commission hearing on Monday this week. There were a great number of people in attendance, and many testified. Faced with water shut-offs and 20% rate increases, many in the crowd pleaded with the commissioners to stop the rate increases.
This is the 2nd article in a series we are working on about water and the drama playing out here in Hillsboro as rates are being voted on soon. Rates that will increase costs to users by up to 21% in the next two years. That is in addition to almost a 70% increase in costs over the past 10 years. As we gather information and receive responses from the City of Hillsboro, we will follow this story in a way no other media outlet can or will. It takes hours and hours of formal processes to gather data and facts. Many of them should be available online but are not. So this is a long and arduous process.
At the heart of much of the testimony, we have heard in person and in meetings are some fundamental questions and beliefs. Mainly we hear a growing concern that industry is creating a tremendous demand for our water supply and the systems that provide it to customers. There are concerns that Intel and companies like them, along with the massive data centers rising in North Hillsboro, are the reason that Hillsboro is leading a now $1.6 Billion dollar project to build a 6-foot water pipe from the Willamette River to Hillsboro.
The Herald has also heard that people in the City who are unable to pay for their service have been shut off from water.
So the Hillsboro Herald has gone to the source to find out answers to these questions to share with all of you. They are as follows.
Hillsboro Herald Question to HWD: How many gallons of water (per day and per year) do the various categories of users (industrial, commercial, residential) consume in the City of Hillsboro?
City of Hillsboro Water Department Response: On average, Hillsboro Water delivers just over 19 million gallons of water per day to customers to meet water demand. In addition to residential, industrial, and commercial customers, Hillsboro Water also serves water to multi-family, public entities, non-profit, and fire protection customers.
See the chart provided below by the Water Department to the Herald:
Table supplied by the City of Hillsboro
HH Analysis: These numbers do support the theory that the residents of Hillsboro are not the reason our systems are being pushed beyond our ability to maintain our water supply. A serious look at the numbers is eye-opening.
Intel, as a company in Hillsboro, uses 20% more Water per day and per year than the 115,000 residents do.
Industrial and Commercial Users combine to use 68% more Water per day and per year than the 115,000 residents do.
FACT: Industry in Hillsboro is dominating Usage of Hillsboro Water and he systems that provide it.
Hillsboro Herald Question to HWD: Where is the demand for water coming from? I know residential has grown, but I am pretty sure the demand in the past 36 months has come on a much greater scale from increased industrial use. Would you agree that Industrial use is pushing the consumption models and growing at a faster rate than residential? Where are the drivers for the need for the Big Pipe project coming from? I know the answer is “across the board,” but in terms of % of growth in use and demand, who is leading that and by what %? I am sure you have all that readily available.
Hillsboro Water Department Response:
Thank you for your question.
Recently, we have seen more growth in residential water usage, but we expect Industrial demand to continue to grow over many years. New demand for water in Hillsboro is coming from both the Residential and Industrial sectors (South Hillsboro and North Hillsboro, respectively). Over the past 36 months, demand has remained about the same for residential users and decreased slightly for industrial use. In the graph below, you can see the blue line (residential) has a peak in August of each year, and August 2020 and 2021’s peaks are higher than in 2019. During the summer, the existing water treatment plant must operate closer to capacity.
Slide provided by the Hillsboro Water Department
The Water Department has a duty to serve existing and future customers in all types of development and is preparing to do so for the remainder of the 21st century through the construction and implementation of this next-generation water supply – the Willamette Water Supply System. To respond to your question about percentages of growth driving this new water supply, the chart below shows the water demand growth forecast through 2070. (Hillsboro Water Department 9/22)
READERS PAY ATTENTION TO THIS GRAPHIC BELOW
Slide provided by the Hillsboro Water Department – Blue Notations by the Hillsboro Herald
There are several abbreviations, so here are the definitions:
NRW: Non-revenue water
FGA: Future Growth Area
MFR: Multi-family Residential
SFR: Single-family Residential
NoHi: North Hillsboro
SoHi: South Hillsboro
The chart shows long-term growth in Industrial, residential, and wholesale, and the relative proportions. Thank you again for providing us an opportunity to respond to your questions. Please feel free to follow up with additional questions or feedback. (Hillsboro Water Department 9/22)
HH Analysis: Ok, look at the graph above and look at the No-Hi Industrial. In the next few years, that grey area of the chart will double the amount of water the Industry uses. That will add another 3.6 Billion gallons a day, taking the percent of Hillsboro water usage by Industrial users to the stratosphere. Add the Future Growth Area (FGA) Industrial in Gold that will ramp up in 2040 and the usage of our Hillsboro water by Industry will be as much as 80%. These projections and facts were provided by the terrific staff at the water department but they have not been published on the City website nor shown in any hearings or meetings that we have attended. We are glad to have a public agency willing to embrace what is happening. FACT- Our systems are being built to support a majority use by Industry and Commercial users.
Hillsboro Herald Question to HWD: It is estimated (by some sources) that as many as 200 people are living in residences in Hillsboro with the water shut off due to budgetary issues and inability to pay. Does the Water Department know how many people may live in homes with no water? Currently, the City does not have a way to provide water to those unable to pay, correct? Is there any hope for these people outside of charitable organizations?
City of Hillsboro Water Department Answer: Out of more than 24,800 residential water accounts, there are currently 25 water meters shut off for non-payment. The City does not track the number of people living in each residence. Affordability is a major concern for the City of Hillsboro. Hillsboro residents facing financial hardship can stay connected to utility services through the City’s Utility Bill Assistance program, which includes flexible payment plans and bill relief. Flexible payment plans help customers pay off a past-due and/or current utility bill in ways that work for the customer’s budget and schedule. Customers who receive services from government assistance programs or meet household income guidelines may be eligible for bill relief on two utility bills not to exceed $250 in total within a 12-month period. No qualified customer has ever been turned away from assistance resources due to lack of funds in the assistance program.
Additional details are available at Hillsboro-Oregon.gov/UtilityAssistance.
HH Analysis: We interviewed two residents who were, in fact, cut off from water. We have confirmed by the HWD staff that people are cut off here in Hillsboro. Rates have risen to a point where people at the very lowest income levels can not easily afford it without help. While funds for up to 2 months are available, that only helps for a while.
The City Council here in Hillsboro has heard testimony asking them to help fund utility bill relief for those in desperate need. The Water Commission has as well. But nothing has been done. The Herald recently attended a council work session that reviewed the City’s use of tens of millions in ARPA (American Recovery Plan Act) money. The Council was asked to provide a line item for utility relief for those COVID Federal Grant Funds, and yet they declined. See the top line item. We see an $800,000 Bonus given to city staff on this panel, $45,000 dollars for murals, and $70,000 for lighting at M&M Market on Walnut Street and along 10th Avenue. And the $600,000 for after-school support is given to the Hillsboro School District to aid in after-school programs. Imagine getting that help as a young student and then going home to no running water or the ability to bathe or cook. Upside-down world, isn’t it? This is one of 8-10 graphics we were shown at the work session. In total, the City of Hillsboro is overseeing the distribution of about 17 Million in ARPA grant money. Keeping those 24 accounts from being shut off would have cost $65 a month per account or about $15,000 a year. I know everyone on the council and staff, and not one person has explained this, even when asked. It makes it seem like people who can not afford water are not welcome in Hillsboro. I know that is not true. But this is a bad look Hillsboro, a really bad look.
FACT: There is no program to provide for Utility relief for those unable to pay beyond 1 to 2 months.
ARPA Slide as provided by the City of Hillsboro