Community Neglected in Reservoir Disconnect

By Nancy Tannler


Lower reservoir at Mt.. Tabor taken late February
Lower reservoir at Mt.. Tabor taken late February

Portland Water Bureau (PWB) announced plans to disconnect Reservoirs 1, 5 and 6 from the city’s drinking water and construct new piped connections, valves and other appurtenances on site that will allow continued operation of the water system without the use of the reservoirs.

Several citizens received the Type II ordinance from the Bureau of Developmental Services (BDS) – including both an historic and environmental review – on January 28 and were given until February 14 to comment. The Water Bureau limits their Land Use (LU) process notification mailing to just immediate neighbors, 150 feet around the area, for a Type II land use review.

At the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association (MTNA) meeting held February 19, members of the community had an opportunity to hear why some citizens are dissatisfied with the way PWB, BDS and Portland Parks and Recreation (PPR) are handling the properties they’ve been entrusted to manage and protect for the citizens of Portland–in this instance focusing on the reservoirs and the lack of communication about this major overhaul.

Although the pre-app notice started in the middle of December, no one from PWB made a presentation of reservoir disconnect plans to any community organization until January 28.

Stephanie Stewart, Land Use Chair MTNA, wrote a letter to Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish, commissioners in charge of PPR and PWB, expressing multiple concerns about the applications # LU 13-236792 and 13-240530, the reservoir disconnect.

Stewart cited that, “In 2006, before beginning the [$23 million] reservoir upgrade projects at Tabor and Washington Park, there was public notice of the Water Bureau’s pre-application meeting at the Bureau of Development Services where questions could be answered. Subsequently two meetings were held before the Water Bureau submitted their application.” (Incidentally those upgrades completed in 2010 were designed to keep the reservoirs safely operating for an additional 50 years.)

In response Fritz’ office wrote, “We had no knowledge of the application but it appears to be a requirement associated with the LT2 directives.”

 Fortunately the outcry from the MTNA, Friends of the Reservoirs (FOR), No. Tabor, So. Tabor and other activists persuaded Commissioner Nick Fish to postpone the comment period and also to reconsider this project as a Type III Land Use review which he did.

The total  Mt. Tabor disconnect cost is close to $7 million dollars (pg. 194 in When presenting to the BDS, PWB broke up the costs into several projects claiming only a few hundred thousand dollars of “exterior” park costs this way avoiding a more vigorous Type III land use process.

Another discrepancy in the Land Use Review, was a skewed  map that looks like PWB is in charge of all the land inside Mt. Tabor Park where the work was to be done. The PWB owns 51 acres, mostly narrow circumferences around the reservoirs and a small stretch along Division St. Portland Parks and Recreation (PPR) owns every thing else. PPR needs to be included in the review process.

At the Sunnyside Land Use meeting, Tom Carter, formerly of the BDS and now the PWB spokesmen on the reservoir disconnect project said that it is all City property and that was not a valid reason to challenge  the process.  Although PWB is a revenue-generating bureau where PPR is not, PPR operates on bond money.

The original Land Use review for the disconnect does not mention the thousands of truck trips back and forth as the 10 feet by 10 feet trenches are dug to install new pipes with impact areas of 12 feet on each side These will go from near Warner Pacific all the way to reservoir #6. In the process 30 trees will be cut, most of which are 14” or larger in diameter, and probably 100 years old. The project, scheduled to start in 2015, will take over a year to complete.

According to Stewart, the empty reservoirs are in direct conflict with their stated historic value “as City-Beautiful, deep-water vistas)”,1 from the community’s last “what goes on top” design process directive (which called for water features), and a protected scenic view corridor.

“We may not use these structures to house our drinking water, but we do have a responsibility toward their historic preservation,” states Stewart in her letter.

Water Bureau consultant Rob Dortignacq, in his “Mt. Tabor Reservoirs Historic Structures Report” dated May of 2009, concluded that these assets, being in good condition, would have a predicted life of 50 or more years if maintained.   City rules under FIN – 6.11 Capital Assets require of the City that they must maintain Capital Assets in good working condition.

At the MTNA, Stewart argued that disconnecting the open reservoirs from the supply system will cease all flow between reservoirs leaving the reservoirs without any water source at all.

Tim Hall, PWB, said a pipe would remain, smaller in circumference but that the reservoirs could still be filled slowly.

There is a contingency of people still fighting to overturn the Environmental Protection Agencies LT2 ruling or at least seeking a waiver or a variance as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was able to do for New York City. Should this ruling be overturned, they question whether or not the reservoirs can be brought back on line. Is this disconnect reversible and if so, what will be the cost to the citizens?

Portland Water Bureau’s treatment of the reservoir issue continues to plague  those opposed to the burial of the reservoirs at Mt. Tabor and Washington Park. Concerns by citizens of fast-tracking plans to bury the reservoir in 2008 and now disconnecting the reservoirs  without any public involvement; instances of nepotism and other ulterior motives keeps coming up in the conversation. (See

In conclusion Stewart wrote, … “In the next few years of reservoir decisions, transparency will benefit all. The appearance of a rushed-push at this point will at the very least inflame antagonism towards current governance, and at worst actually allow poorly thought out construction plans to be executed.”

1) the central design feature of Mt. Tabor Park, created by landscape architect Olmsted,


Community Neglected in Reservoir Disconnect

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