By Nancy Tannler
Last month in a series on the reservoirs, The Southeast Examiner wrote the article Open Air Reservoirs and Your Health. This month, we look back over the development of the Portland Water Bureau and the recent financial expenditures that have citizens concerned about the rising costs and the future debt.
Early Portland settlers first relied upon wells for their water until the mid-1850s when a growing number of household wells were becoming contaminated. As the city grew, so did the need for clean water. In 1856, a private company got permission to pipe water from Caruthers Creek. Eventually this company became the Portland Water Company, still privately-owned at that time. They added new pipes pumping water from the Willamette River and Balch Creek.
It wasn’t until 1884–85 that the Oregon legislature approved Portland Fire and Water Committee’s request for the City of Portland to have its own water system. This was only after tidal fluctuations on the Willamette and waste from upstream factories caused another pollution crisis.
A 15-member committee, known as the “Oligarchy of 15” was made up of the most prominent businessmen in Portland. Isaac W. Smith, engineer and surveyor, was commissioned to inspect any viable water supply in the region. After considering options including Oswego Lake and the Clackamas River, Smith settled on the Bull Run River as the most likely prospect. A five-month survey trip led Smith to conclude that a gravity-flow system could deliver clean water from the river to Portland. They settled on the Bull Run Watershed in 1887 and to this day it is some of the cleanest city drinking water available anywhere.
This committee drafted a bill to finance the $500,000 cost. In 1891, the Oregon Legislature authorized the city to sell bonds to pay for the Bull Run project, which began delivering water to Portland in 1895.
Since the City of Portland has an abundance of fresh, clean water from Bull Run, the average household wasn’t paying exorbitant water/sewer bills until recently when the average household rates went up. In 1972 just the water bill per quarter came to $2.01; 1990, $8.58; 2000, $13.05 and projected 2014, $27.61.
Due to the twenty year, $1.4 billion Big Pipe Project, the LT2 ruling and several Portland Water Bureau (PWB) projects (some are listed below), water and sewer bills continue to increase. According to PWB statistics, in pursuing these projects we could be responsible for even more bond debt. Rate payers currently owe $381 million and another $150 million in bonds are expected to be issued in 2014 -2015. These figures do not include the interest on these bonds.
According to Tim Hall, Manager, Community Information & Involvement PWB, it is not the water bureau that decides the budget, but City Council. He says Mayor Hales does not want to make another stiff increase now, potentially a 7.8 percent increase, so the PWB is deferring as many projects as they safely can until later. Hall said the water system is over 100 years old and is in need of major repair and since 1972 state health officials have wanted to cover the reservoirs. The most recent increase starting in July 2013 is 3.6 percent.
Since 2004, citizens have been questioning the validity of taking the Mt. Tabor and Washington Park reservoirs offline and covering them. They have sought variances, deferrals, waivers–anything to convince the EPA, City Council, PWB that they don’t need or want the LT2 ruling on Bull Run water. Now the cost of the work being done is high. Hall said that if we had buried the reservoirs back in 2004 when the LT2 ruling was first issued, the project would have been less expensive.
One concern of citizen groups is the integrity of the decisions about who benefits financially from all this planning, construction and deconstruction when they believe a simpler solution is possible. Between the years of 1980 and 1994 Portland Water Bureau (PWB) employee Joe Glicker worked as an engineer. In 1995, he left the PWB and went to work for Montgomery Watson Harza Global, Inc. (MWH) a large multinational corporation that builds underground reservoir tanks, treatment plants, dams and other water projects around the world.
Many Bull Run advocates (including members of the highly respected and long-running Bull Run Interest Group (BRIG), Citizens Interested in Bull Run Inc. (CIBRI) and Citizens Interested in Safe Water) consider Glicker, along with a handful of his professional connections, some of the architects of the plans and actions that would force the construction of the Bull Run filtration plant and burial of Portland’s 5 open reservoirs.
Tim Hall said they were only a few of the nationwide experts involved in the LT2 decision. The inter-related local connections are as follows: William Glaze, Ph.D., Chair of the EPA Scientific Advisory Board Executive Committee; Michael McGuire, Ph.D. consultant to EPA committee that formulated the “Agreement in Principle” for the draft LT2ESWT rule also a subcontractor to Portland MWH; Rosemary Menard, Portland Water Bureau, representative to the Federal Advisory Committee that formulated the “Agreement in Principle” for the draft LT2ESWT rule; R. Rhodes Trussell, Ph.D., Senior Vice President MWH, 32 years with MWH and Joe Glicker, Portland Water Bureau, 14 years, President of Portland Office MWH.
While employed by the PWB, Glicker authored an article entitled “Convincing the Public that Drinking Water is Safe” describing how public understanding with regard to drinking water can be managed.
Until 2006 the PWB awarded many consulting contracts to MWH as a result of the LT2 rule that would mandate the construction of the Bull Run treatment plant and, ultimately, burying, covering or additionally treating (at the outlet) the open reservoirs. According to Hall, they were the best contractors for the job.
Hall told The Southeast Examiner they didn’t give these contracts to MHW because of Glicker, but to a company that was good at what they did, were not profiteering and needed to keep their people working.
Here are the contracts the PWB awarded Glicker at MWH and eventually CH2M Hill. According to Friends of the Reservoir advocate Floy Jones, in almost every case, Public Involvement took place only after corporate contracts were awarded.
• 1989 – 1993 Montgomery, Watson Bull Run Water Treatment Study
• 1995 – 2004 These included Glicker contracting for: Powell Butte Master Plan, 9-year contract; MWH Open Reservoir Study, 8-year contract; MWH, CH2M Hill Infrastructure Master plan, end date unknown; MWH Federal Regulation contract (LT2) along with Rhodes Trussell a 32-year CEO of MWH; MWH Regional Transmission and Storage Strategy (end date unknown); MWH Bull Run Treatment Panel, 4-year contract; MWH Tabor Reservoir Burial contract terminated in 2004. These contracts, with added emergency variances allowing Commissioner Sten to sign subsequent amendments without return to Council, came to an estimated $2,138,900.000.
• 2004 – 2011 PWB upgrades for the reservoirs $23,000,000 plus additional projects totaling $35,000,000
• 2004 – –? CH2M Hill professional services providing summaries of various treatment options, assist in collecting and organizing information to be told to the public
• 2007 – 2010 Glicker moves to CH2M Hill as a consultant, PWB contracts follow. CH2M Hill LT2 related UV radiation Plant pre-design work, $750,000
• 2009 – 2012 CH2M Hill LT2 buried Tank Design, $8,455,246
• 2009 –? CH2M Hill LT2 Bull Run source water Variance Track 2
• 2010 – 2013 MWH Kelly Butte buried storage tank serving as Mt. Tabor replacement, $78,245,779
• 2010 – 2013 CH2M Hill Flexible Service contract including money for public relations.
Many of the contracts have no termination point and continue to draw a salary until when ever.
As rate paying citizens, it is important to know exactly what we are paying for, what contractors are being employed and who decided to implement the LT2/cover reservoir ruling that will affect us financially for the next thirty years and historically forever.