Investing in Safe Drinking Water


We are making investments now in improving Salem’s drinking water treatment systems. Last summer, we installed a new pre-treatment system using powdered activated carbon. We are designing a new treatment system, an ozone contact chamber, and a system that can serve as a second source of drinking water for our residents and water customers. We’re engaging experts to better predict future algae blooms. Working with the community and on a regional basis, we’re improving preparedness, communications, and equipment for water distribution.

City actions taken in response to this summer’s drinking water advisories:

Funding improvements to harmful algae bloom detection and water treatment. The City expects to invest over $50 million in water treatment improvements, initial deployment of secondary water sources and algae detection in the next two years. Financial modeling of the City's Utility Services Fund indicates that this amount of funding can be applied with the current 3 percent rate increase per year.

  • Ozone contact chamber. The City is in the initial planning phases for design and construction of an ozone contact chamber at Geren Island. A request for engineering services has been issued. Ozone is easier to operate and more robust than the PAC system. The project will take three years to design, permit and construct.
  • Powdered activated carbon pre-treatment system. The City installed a powdered activated carbon (PAC) treatment system at the Geren Island Water Treatment Facility. The PAC system includes the PAC inductor, mixers, alum/polymer injector, and acetic acid injector. The PAC system provides a backup system to the existing slow sand filtration system for treating any contaminants found in the source water, including cyanotoxins.
    • Fine-Tuning the science and early maintenance. To prepare for next spring, should PAC be needed, the City is rebuilding sand filters, deepening the settling filter, and improving the acetic acid dispenser. While the PAC has not been needed since the initial use earlier this summer, while demand is low this fall, the City is conducting additional testing to perfect PAC treatment dosage and settling requirements. 
  • Same-day results.  The City has the capability of testing for cyanotoxins in-house using the ELISA machine and its ancillary equipment to produce same-day test results. The City is actively pursuing state accreditation of this water testing capability through the Oregon Laboratory Accreditation Program (ORELAP).
  • Secondary water sources. For several years, the City has been working to identify and develop secondary water sources. Ground water wells at Geren Island, expansion of the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells at Woodmansee Park, and development of in-town ground water wells in east and west Salem are viable sources. When fully developed, staff estimates that the three projects will produce between 30 and 40 million gallons of water per day.
  • Understanding harmful algae blooms. The City has reached out to universities, researchers, federal agencies (EPA, NASA, and NOAA), and think tanks from all over the United States to gain additional knowledge on algae blooms. Some of the world's foremost experts on HABs have been consulted on promising approaches and technologies related to early bloom detection.
    • Engaging experts in the field. The City and the Oregon State University College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmosphere hosted a symposium with OSU faculty to discuss Salem's harmful algae bloom (HAB) incident.
    • Using satellite imagery for detection of algae.  The City, in coordination with EPA, has been granted access to the CyAN (Cyanobacteria Assessment Network—a joint EPA, NASA, NOAA, and USGS project) ahead of public release. The project uses collected imagery from the Sentinel 3A satellite and advanced algorithms to detect cyanobacteria. City staff is developing a methodology to collect and analyze this imagery with existing City computer processing systems to facilitate early and remote detection.
    • Coordinating satellite imagery with ground sensing devices. City staff is also partnering with Dr. Nick Tufillaro at Oregon State University (who is working on securing NASA grant funds on the City's behalf) to develop algorithms using Sentinel 2 satellite imagery and hand held hyperspectral instruments to be mounted over Detroit Dam and Geren Island to detect HABs.
    • Learning to predict future algae blooms. City staff is partnering with The Prediction Lab to study the variables which contribute to HAB formation in Detroit Lake and to develop mathematical algorithms to predict HABs. The Predication Lab will use accumulated data from the City, other agencies, satellite imagery, Dr. Nick Tufillaro's analysis, and possibly a vertical profiling unit in Detroit Lake as inputs to tune the model. Deliverables will be a report and HAB prediction software. Further ideas for work for the Prediction Lab if warranted after the initial deliverables include integration with the City’s OSI Pi visualization software, and other data sharing capabilities.

Water distribution in an emergency situations.  While the goal is for everyone to be two weeks ready, should the City face another drinking water advisory, we are better prepared today with the equipment, partnerships, and volunteer resources ready to distribute water throughout the community more quickly. 

  • City water tankers. Both City water tankers have been refurbished and are ready to be used in the future. Tankers will continue to be properly maintained.
  • Water delivery trailers. Water delivery trailers are being designed and ordered. Ultimately the City will own two of these trailers.
  • Preparedness. Partnerships are in place, sites, and equipment to operate eight sites.

Volunteers. The City is developing a data base of volunteers, including CERT, and resources will be applied to maintaining the data base. There are 46 CERT graduates this year.  Next class is January; 20 hours. The City will be offering an intro to CERT/emergency preparedness; 3 hours. CERT training underway or will be underway at SAIF, Marion County, and Chemeketa Community College.

Community  Emergency and Critical Incident Communication. We are building out a campaign to get more community participation/sign ups to City’s Community Alert system.   We are also preparing initial messaging for known emergencies such as road closures due to slides, snow and ice, flooding, sewer system overflow releases, warming and cooling centers, etc.  We can be more responsive to community, providing more information earlier by working out and securing approval for these statements now.

These outreach efforts include Spanish language audiences. The City is an authorized IPAWS user (alert system). 

  • Expanded public information functions during minor emergencies. As a new standard practice, a public information officer will be immediately assigned to the Public Works Department Operating Center (DOC) as part of its activation during minor emergencies such as flooding, wind or snow/ice. The public information officer (PIO) will coordinate messaging and monitor social media outlets.
  • Use of City web page for water customer alerts. The City developed a system for communicating the presence of cyanotoxins in the source water during the water advisory event. The City intends to continue using this information system into the future.
  • Community Outreach.  A video summarizing the City’s water source and treatment, including the powdered activated carbon, is available.  We continue to offer tours to community groups interested in learning more about their water system. Recent tours have been City Watch and the League of Women Voters.  We are building a roster of our key partners within different audience bases (industry, cultural communities, etc.) so that we can get the word out to more people, more effectively and more quickly, through trusted resources within all our communities.
  • Emergency Operations Center. Work is underway to update and clarify criteria for when to establish a Joint Information Center and documenting more of our communications systems we use in emergency (community alert, media relations, information flows/processes, etc.) to capture what went well into our systems.
  • Additional Incident Command System (ICS) training. Most City staff involved in emergency operations are trained in the Incident Command System (ICS). Additional training has been scheduled for staff who have not been trained, or those that through the drinking water incident were identified to need additional training.
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency. Employees will be attending FEMA-funded emergency communications training.
  • Emergency Communications Plan. Updated.
  • Emergency Plans. The City's Emergency Management Plan has individual plans (annexes) for a variety of critical incidents and disasters, department plans, functional plans that are updated periodically.  The last update was January 2018.  Work is underway on adding a harmful algae bloom annex.  

Community and regional preparedness.  While the goal is for everyone to be two weeks ready, should the City face another drinking water advisory, we are better prepared today with the equipment, partnerships, and volunteer resources ready to distribute water throughout the community more quickly. 

  • Emergency Preparedness Training.  Salem's emergency training curriculum is being reviewed by peers.  A short course available to community partners is being translated into Spanish.  Classes have been done at Capital Manor; business training events are planned.  Staff have reached out to several large apartment complexes.
  • Coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers. City staff has developed a close working relationship with the Army Corps of Engineers in the areas of dam operations and planning of future projects at Detroit Reservoir.
  • Regional Watershed Coordination.  City staff are actively engaged in collaboration with the communities within the Detroit Reservoir and North Santiam watershed. 

Our work is not done.  We are committed to the health and safety of our residents and water customers. And, we continue to work on new approaches to Salem’s drinking water infrastructure to ensure safe drinking water. 

Contact us

City Manager’s Office
8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
555 Liberty St SE RM 220
Salem OR 97301