History of Water & Electric in Canby

Water Service

Prior to 1920, Canby had an elevated wooden storage tank. Water was supplied from a drilled well at the northeast corner of N.W. 4th and Fir Streets. The storage tank was also located at this site.

In approximately 1920, the wooden tank burned down. According to some Council Minutes of approximately this same date, the City employed an engineer to design a 100,000 gallon elevated steel storage tank to be constructed at the corner of N.W. 4th and Fir Streets.

The distribution system for the downtown core area was constructed between 1916 to 1922, and is still in use today. Sometime later, in the early 1920’s, the City had another well drilled on the same site about 700 feet deep. The water had, among other minerals, a considerable amount of sulfur in it and the well became known as “Old Stinky.” Then around 1929, the City employed a contractor and developed some springs in the Molalla River bottom and constructed a concrete system of collection boxes, pipelines and a collection gallery from which water was pumped into the distribution system and storage tank with a 250 gallon per minute electric driven pump. Sometime later, the second 250 gallon per minute pump was added.

In 1944, more water was needed and the City again employed a contractor to construct a concrete collection gallery approximately 18 feet in diameter and about 24 feet deep with openings in the walls to permit water to enter from the underground aquifer. A 40 hp motor with an 800 gallon per minute pump was installed.

Between 1950 and 1951, a 30 inch diameter corrugated metal pipe, with perforations to admit the water, was installed about 18 feet below ground level and approximately 300 feet in length and connected to the infiltration gallery in the Molalla River bottom constructed in 1944.

This well performed very well until approximately 1964 when, in July, the water source was not sufficient to supply the demand. By force account, and with the Water Department’s employees, a mechanical system of pressure pumping was installed and a contract was awarded to build a 500,000 gallon ground level storage tank. This helped to meet the demands for the next three to four years, and then more water was required during the summer months. To meet this requirement, during the years 1968 to 1970, water was pumped from the Molalla River and ponded above the infiltration tube leading to the collection gallery then pumped into the distribution system.

During the year of 1970, the City employed engineers to design a pump station at the Molalla River with a 3 million gallon per day capacity water treatment facility and a 2 1/2 million gallon steel storage tank. Also, in this program was an addition to construct water distribution pipelines: a 10 inch line on South Elm Street, a 10 inch line on N.W. 4th Street from Fir to Ivy, a 16 inch line from N. W. 4th on Ivy south to 3rd Avenue then east on 3rd Avenue to the County Fairgrounds and a 16 inch water main from the new water treatment plant to the storage facilities at N.W. 4th and Fir Street. There was also a 16 inch raw water line connecting the Molalla River Pump Station to the Water Treatment Plant.

With the newly constructed pump station, treatment plant and additional storage facilities, the Water Department was able to produce about 3 to 3 1/2 million gallons of water per day. Subsequent incremental expansions in 1980, 1995, and 2006 have improved the facility’s capacity to 8 million gallons per day.

The Canby Utility Board (CUB) was created by Canby City Charter amendment in 1970. The City delegated authority to CUB operate, manage all facilities, services and aspects of the City’s Municipal Water Department. In 1982, a voter approved city charter amendment transferred water assets ownership to the City Council. The CUB continued to operate and manage the water system. On January 20, 1993, an Intergovernmental Agreement between CUB and the City of Canby was signed extending this authority into the future.

Electric Service

Electricity came to Canby in approximately 1902, according to 1970 recollections of the late Horace Patch, a 1900 arrival in the city. Street lamps lighted by coal oil were used after November 1894.

Aurora Electric was the original supplier of electric service to Canby. William S. Hurst, an Aurora warehouse owner, built a flume from a pond created by a dam in Mill Creek, now crossed by a curving concrete bridge carrying traffic west, just north of the railroad tracks. His water powered plant also provided electricity to Aurora. When fire destroyed the plant, a steam plant was built. The town of Barlow then became a customer after its 1903 incorporation.

In approximately 1909, M. J. Lee, Canby born grandson of Philander Lee, and others formed the Canby Canal Company. A canal was dug to carry Molalla River water from a point below Good’s Bridge to a power plant the company was building on the L.D. Cross Donation Land Claim, the former Joseph Knight sawmill site, now in Canby Community Park. Patch recalled that Lee brought a “huge tractor” from Eastern Oregon to operate the plant, whose water wheel generated electricity. Output was minimal and the plant could meet only a small part of Canby’s needs. Its operational life was brief, and Aurora Electric continued to be the chief supplier. But the Canal Company plant’s 30-inch thick concrete walls stood until 1979, an historical monument to the enterprising Lee and his colleagues. The foundation had been deemed an “attractive nuisance” by the City Council after the park was opened, but had resisted a 200-stick dynamite charge on March 7, 1959. The plant’s upper level wooden structure had disappeared years before.

Clarence Eid, who came to Canby as a lad of 12 in 1909, recalled that his father, John, later City Treasurer for many years, had bought an already-electrified home from Dr. H. A. Dedman (at N.W. 2nd Street and Douglas, facing the present post office) on his arrival in Canby. Aurora Electric Company was supplying power: 6 kW at $1.75.

Demand for electricity was too great for Hurst’s Aurora plant, and Aurora Electric began in approximately 1912 to buy power from the Portland Electric Power Company (PEPCO). PEPCO generated power at its West Linn plant at Willamette Falls in Oregon City. Before World War I, E. G. Robinson purchased Aurora Electric, renamed Molalla Electric, and had offices for a time in Canby. By February 1918, Molalla Electric was selling electricity, at wholesale, to the City of Canby. In January 1923, Molalla Electric was serving Aurora, Barlow, Hubbard, Donald, Fargo, Butteville, Wilsonville and wholesaling to Canby.

Robinson told the Canby City Council on September 13, 1920 that his company “could not continue to furnish electric lights to Canby at present rates unless the light system was placed on a switch system costing approximately $531.50.”

Canby’s Clackamas County News on August 11, 1921 told of an August 4 meeting in the Band Hall at which residents voted to “remove electric lights from homes rather than pay prices they declared unjust.” Rates at Canby were $3.45 per 20 kWh, while many valley towns had a $1.49 rate. “This rate was a 120 percent increase in costs,” the News story said, noting that “the City was cutting back street lamps from 60 to 9.” Only N.W. 1st Avenue street lamps, controlled by a switch, would be lighted.

A charter change on December 5, 1921, by a 6-0 vote of the Council, authorized building or purchasing a municipal light and power system for Canby, sale of bonds of $10,000 with 6 percent interest, and levy a tax of $500 per year to pay for the bonds. The following June 22, the Council ordered an election to authorize issuance of the bonds. 204 ballots were cast: 152 in favor, 51 opposed, and one defective.

Vote was 5-1 on August 7, 1922, when the Council voted to buy “the entire distribution system of Molalla Electric” at $7,787 less $1,350 the company owed the City. The system included “the street lighting system valued at $600.” It wasn’t until March 27, 1923 before the bill of sale was in City hands. In four years, the bond issue had been paid off.

Louis Lent, who had been water superintendent since May 1916 (and also Chief of Police), was named on September 5, 1922 as superintendent of both light and water departments. When he retired in September 1947, after 25 years as head of both light and water departments, he recalled that in 1922 Canby had 250 electric customers, eight transformers. Only one electric range was in Canby at that time, and only 86 kWh was used in September.

Less than five years after the 1922 purchase of its electric distribution system, Canby was offered $47,800 for the system and the opportunity to provide power within the City. The offer from Portland Electric Power Company was considered by the people at a late 1927 election, in which 277 voted. One lone voter forestalled the municipal system’s sale to Portland Electric Power (now currently known as Portland General Electric “PGE”). A similar proposal was offered in 1928, and a hard-fought, bitter campaign preceded the November 1, 1928 vote. The election drew 377 people, and the measure lost again.

At the suggestion of Mr. Lent, on May 23, 1938, the Council applied to Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) for electric power while still buying from PGE.

Mayor Vineyard led the City in its effort to obtain power from the BPA. His Councilmen were Richard H. Reynolds, Harry Porter, Fred Stefani, George Koehler, B. P. Pfister, Frank T. Cutsforth, Rinehart Gesik and Harvey Everhart. Canby signed a 20-year contract with BPA on December 22, 1939 to buy electrical energy at wholesale and sell to its customers at retail. The agreement provided a minimum purchase of 3000 kW per year. On April 10, 1941 the Canby Light Department earned a net profit of $7,649.24 during the first 12 months under the BPA agreement.

Delivery point for prime power to Canby was over PGE facilities at S.W. 4th and Birch. It was changed in December 1950 to the present PGE substation at the N.E. corner of Knight’s Bridge and Barlow Roads, west of Canby. A substation was built on N.E. Redwood Street near Oregon Highway 99E in the 1950’s as Canby’s growth continued.

From early 1940 until August 1995, Canby has been served by BPA. Because of deregulation of the power industry and to acquire competitive prices for the citizens of Canby, the Canby Utility Board issued a request for proposal for a full requirements power sales contract in January 1995. On January 27, 1995, a full requirements power sales contract was signed between the Canby Utility Board and PGE for all load except up to one [1] average megawatt. The one [1] average megawatt load continued to be supplied by the BPA. On October 1, 2001, Canby Utility returned to being a full requirements customer of the BPA.

Created in December 7, 1970, Canby Utility Board has administered the city’s electrical system since 1971.