The town of Hillsboro, Oregon, was incorporated in 1876. Back then the only water sources available to residents were wells and local streams. A private company first brought water to Hillsboro via a pipe, but City officials soon realized the importance of securing a municipal supply. Even back then it was clear that if Hillsboro desired to grow and prosper as a community, it was imperative that a water supply of high quality and adequate quantity be found and the rights to it secured.
Hillsboro’s original water source was Sain Creek in western Washington County. The water was supplied by the “Peoples Water and Gas Company” and came to town via a wooden pipe. In 1940, the City of Hillsboro formed its own Utilities Commission and built an intake on the Tualatin River at Haines Falls. An 18” steel line carried water 26 miles from the intake to Hillsboro. Though service through this pipe to Hillsboro was replaced by the North Transmission Line in the late 1990’s, the 18” pipe still supplies water to Hillsboro’s upper system customers – including rural customers south of Forest Grove, the City of Gaston and L.A. Water Co-op.
When east Hillsboro began to grow in the 1980’s, Hillsboro did not have pipes out to the Tanasbourne area and they were too costly to put in at that time. Wolf Creek Water District, which is now Tualatin Valley Water District, agreed to be the water provider for the section of Hillsboro east of Cornelius Pass Road. This agreement was later made official by Senate Bill 122. The City of Hillsboro now officially serves Hillsboro water customers west of Cornelius Pass and TVWD serves Hillsboro customers to the east and also those north of Highway 26.
Hillsboro further established itself as a regional leader in water issues when it secured raw water storage for western Washington County. In the 1960’s, Hillsboro’s original City Manager, J.W. Barney, sent surveyors up into the coast range. Their mission was to locate an area that could collect winter water for summer use. A bowl-shaped depression discovered in the hills along the Trask River was deemed perfect for a dam and reservoir site. City engineers designed an ingenious water transfer system that depends exclusively on gravity to feed stored water all the way from the reservoir to the Tualatin River intake. Hillsboro and Forest Grove co-owned the original Barney Reservoir, which was completed in 1971.
Scoggins Dam was also constructed in the 1970’s by the Bureau of Reclamation. The water impounded by the dam to form Hagg Lake was allocated by contract to several agencies, including Hillsboro. The dam and reservoir are operated by the Tualatin Valley Irrigation District, because they own the largest share (half) of all the water in the lake.
In the 1970’s, Hillsboro needed to construct a filtration plant and intake on the Tualatin River south of Forest Grove – prior to that the City had not been required to filter its water. Hillsboro invited other agencies in the area to come aboard as partners on the project. Forest Grove expressed interest in a partnership and in 1976 the Joint Water Commission was formed. Over time, City of Beaverton, and Tualatin Valley Water District also joined – all as partners with equal votes. Today the Joint Water Commission owns and operates the largest conventional water treatment plant in Oregon and provides water to 400,000 customers in Washington County.
Expansion of the Barney Reservoir from 4,000 to 20,000 acre feet began in the early 1990’s. The expansion made it possible for other agencies, including Clean Water Services and Tualatin Valley Water District, to buy into stored water ownership. The Barney Reservoir Joint Ownership Commission formed to manage reservoir operations in 1994.
Today, Hillsboro is the largest city in Washington County and has a healthy base of industrial, commercial, and residential water users. One of the primary reasons for this positive balance – especially the influx of the high tech industry in the 1990’s - is because Hillsboro has a reputation for staying ahead of the curve on water supply and also for maintaining high water quality standards.
This reputation and cooperative attitude are critical to propelling the water supply planning process that is now underway in the region. Hillsboro is one of several partnering agencies that are collaborating to make informed decisions about how water needs will be met in the next 50 years. In the shadow of this legacy, officials are working hard to ensure that present and future water supply projects show as much vision as the accomplishments of those who have gone before.