The city of Prineville is going green.

On top of its newly completed sewer treatment system that uses wetlands and ponds to treat wastewater, the city recently won accolades from the Oregon Water Resources Department for major conservation efforts in its municipal water supply. By replacing old water lines — including wooden pipes that were laid during World War II — and through installation of automatic water meters and regular audits, the city has reduced wasted water in the city from 172 million gallons in 2008 to 10 million gallons in 2016.

“We keep getting greener and greener, and that’s our ultimate goal,” City Engineer Eric Klann said. “There are just so many benefits to this and we are just so proud this.”

Klann is particularly proud of the city’s wastewater treatment system. When faced with task of expanding sewer treatment in Prineville in 2008, city officials were told that the best they could do was a $62 million mechanical plant.

The potential plant would have raised annual sewer charges to city residents from $3,800 per home to $9,147 and city officials weren’t having it.

Mayor Betty Roppe tasked the city’s public works department with finding alternative plans to replace their existing wastewater treatment system, and Klann went beyond the requirement, Roppe said.

“The state of Oregon told us we were growing exponentially and we needed a mechanical plant,” she said. “We knew it would be difficult for customers to pick up the rates to pay off the project and we felt strongly that we couldn’t do this to our customers.”

In 2008, the city began exploring a different option — the now operating Crooked River Wetland Project.

“It’s something that we are really proud of,” Roppe said. “It was a significant improvement to the cost to the city and be able to keep the rate about the same. It was an ingenious concept and it was because the staff was willing to think outside the box.”

The Crooked River Wetland Project is a series of gravity-fed pools that treat wastewater naturally through reeds and pond plants. The wetlands have kept costs low while increasing benefits to the community.

“By letting things take their natural course, there are just so many benefits,” Klann said. “We were thinking outside the box, but we also care an awful lot about the environment.”

Aside from reducing future treatment costs from $62 million to $7.7 million dollars — of which $3 million was secured in grants — the wetlands create more than five miles of walking or running trails open to the public.

The city broke ground on the project April 22, 2016 — Earth Day — and worked with local schools to create an educational approach as well. Students helped create 13 informational kiosks around the wetlands with topics including watersheds, honeybees and Native American tribes in Central Oregon. Local woodshop students also built and painted more than 200 birdhouses for swallows and other species, making the Crooked River Wetland a prime location for local bird watchers.

And for the treated water that is disposed?

The clean, cold water is directed back into the newly restored Crooked River. The stream restoration recreated the more natural state of the river with a more complex landscape.

The many alcoves and shaded areas on the river bank were supposed to eventually improve spawning habitat for steelhead trout after the wetland’s grand opening in the spring. The trout can already be seen favoring the cooler temperatures created by the wetland project, Klann said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829, acolosky@bendbulletin.com

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