Two cities in Douglas County are nearly finished installing new multi-million dollar wastewater treatment plants.

Drain’s plant, the same one that’s been in use since the 1940’s, is almost at the end of it’s year and half construction.

Steve Dahl, city manager in Drain, said crews hope to have the plant operational by early November. Sutherlin has been working on its plant since May. It is scheduled to open November 2019.

“The old plant ended it’s useful life,” Dahl said. “There were issues with parts shutting down. They would have to keep building parts. They don’t make parts for it anymore.”

Drain’s plant is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in the county. Dahl said most treatment plants are expected to last 50 to 60 years. Drain’s has been in operation for more than 70 years.

“Most of these communities are all in the same boat,” Sutherlin Mayor Todd McKnight said. “(The plants) were all built in the ‘70s. Of course, times have changed and Department of Environmental Quality requirements have changed. A lot of these towns are getting to the point where they are having to make big-ticket purchases.”

The surge in wastewater treatment plant construction in the ‘70s and ‘80s came primarily from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Construction Grants which went to water infrastructure projects nationwide. That program ended in 1990.

Roseburg’s was built in the ‘80s, Glendale, Sutherlin and Canyonville built theirs in the late ‘70s, Riddle recently replaced its plant from the ‘70s, and Myrtle Creek replaced its plant in 2003.

The DEQ cited Sutherlin for a discharge violation in 2003 and ever since, the city has been working to meet changing regulations, obtain funding, purchase Ford’s Pond and sort out the design and engineering.

It’s been 14 years since the process began, but construction started and the city water bills began incrementally increasing, topping out at a $58.55 by 2020. Sutherlin is scheduled to pay off the cost in the next four to five years depending on population growth.

“We were at max at our current plant,” Sutherlin Community Development Director Brian Elliott said. “We need capacity to be higher. Plentiful clean water and the ability to process it is important for economic growth. It puts us in a good place as far as impact to the community. It’s out of sight, out of mind.”

The original 6.2-acre plant in Sutherlin was built in 1977. The project will upgrade the plant with four, 20-foot-high finishing tanks that will expand the plant’s capacity.

“It’s going to be better for the community and it’s something that takes us into the future,” said John Bachman, supervisor of the wastewater division.

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Janelle Polcyn is the business reporter at the News-Review, graduated from the University of Texas, and is a podcast enthusiast.

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