News Feature | May 1, 2014

Condemned Water Utility To Get Second Chance?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


A water system with a long history of contamination and ratepayer complaints may have a comeback in the works. 

Juniper Utility, condemned and taken over by Bend, OR, in 2002, has drawn the attention of potential buyers. 

The utility has consistently struggled, and selling it may be in the city's best interests. 

"Around 2001 the water utility service provided by Juniper Utility became wholly inadequate. Complaints describing egregious deficiencies in water pressure started to be heard. Basic necessities such as filling a bathtub or washing machine or taking a decent shower became impossible. There was not adequate water pressure to provide any fire protection," the city explained

Owning Juniper has not been easy on the city. 

"[Bend] has poured $5 million to $7 million into upgrading the Juniper system since acquiring it in 2002," the Bulletin reported.

Juniper has attracted the attention of Avion Water and Roats Water System, who appear to be potential private buyers.

"A pair of private water companies looking to peel off a piece of the Bend city water system intend to meet with residents of the affected neighborhoods later this month to discuss their proposal," the Bulletin reported. 

Roats and Avion have different plans for the utility than the city would undertake. 

"The former Juniper system is unique within the city’s water network in that it’s actually two systems — drinkable household water drawn from wells, and low-cost irrigation water drawn from the Arnold Canal, often running in parallel pipes," the report said. 

That unique system has created problems for the city. "The city has documented six instances of cross-contamination, he said, and a few residents have claimed to have been sickened by drinking untreated water," the report said. 

The report described Juniper's unusual system: "The thin-walled plastic pipes that carry both the household water and irrigation water are indistinguishable from each other. When one pipe breaks, it can break the other pipe, he said, and untreated canal water can contaminate the water used for drinking and bathing," the report said, citing Bend City Engineer Tom Hickmann.

The buyers do not want to gut all of the original design. 

"Avion and Roats believe it is possible to preserve the irrigation system, while the city has concluded the irrigation system is a liability risk and has proposed phasing it out in 2015," the report said, citing one of the prospective buyers. 

“If things go wrong, and the city is the owner of it, people want to go after those deep pockets,” Hickmann said.

Some locals are already onboard. The Bulletin published a positive editorial about the potential buyout. 

"If the city keeps Juniper, it will need to spend more upgrading it. If the Juniper area is sold, the city can focus more on other improvements the city needs," the editorial said. 

Image credit: "grifo," Señor Zozo © 2014, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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