Protecting Important Functional Icons

By Nancy Tannler


People do have the power to change decisions that governments make.

A case in point is the Eiffel Tower, originally built for the 1889 World’s Fair and scheduled to be taken down afterwards. Its function as a radio tower and the outrage of Paris citizens kept that structure standing and it is now the icon of Paris.

ares-pic-1-lightsIn our fair city, the outrage of citizens back in 2004 slowed the demolition of one of our precious icons, the Mt. Tabor reservoirs. Portland Water Bureau (PWB) and the City of Portland had plans to cover the reservoirs permanently. Fortunately a small group of citizens formed the Friends of the Reservoirs  and drew attention to the plan and slowed down the process.

On September 24, Scott Fernandez M.Sc.  Biology/ microbiology/drinking water chemistry, gave a Town Hall presentation that states why a waiver is still possible to retain our open air reservoirs.

The EPA is reviewing its LT2 ruling to close open air reservoirs because of the fear of cryptosporidium and giardia, which has never been detected in our water system. They will make their final decision in 2016.

Fernandez has written a paper titled Scientific Basis for Mount Tabor and Washington Park Open Reservoirs EPA Waiver.  It is available as a pdf at The EPA will only take this document into account if our City Council and Mayor support the idea.

According to Jaymee Cuti, Public Information Officer, PWB, “No waiver for the LT2 “treat or cover” requirements for uncovered reservoirs exists in state or federal law. No water utility in the country has received a waiver to the uncovered reservoir requirements of LT2.”

Yet in Colorado 72 waivers were granted to public drinking water systems. How is that possible? (The Denver Post,11/19/2009)

The definition of a waiver is the voluntary surrender of known rights. Fernandez believes that the enforced LT2 ruling takes away our rights to clean, fresh water. That is why he and a group of committed individuals continue to do battle with Goliath: they believe in the rights to challenge the rules of a democracy.

We already have a perfect, gravity-feed delivery system. The reservoirs in the parks are located at different elevations required to serve the customers. This saves on electricity and pumping costs.

The water is cold, security surveillance cameras monitor the reservoirs 24 hours per day and the reservoirs must be cleaned every six months as opposed to once every five years for underground storage.

They are open air reservoirs with  exposure to sunlight–an important feature of our fresh water system. (The Cost of Decommissioning, The Southeast Examiner, August 2013).

The evening’s presentation was focused on the biological effects of water stored in underground storage units like the ones we are using from Powell and eventually Kelly Butte. According to Frenandez, “Once they complete the closed reservoir system there is no turning back.”

Fernandez explained why open reservoirs are healthy and what chemical, physical and microbial reactions take place in the storage process.

A chemical reaction takes place when the particles in water sink and gasses rise. In an open air reservoir, gas can efficiently escape into the atmosphere; a physical reaction continually occurs as the sun breaking down any chemicals in the water.

The microbial reaction is the aerobic bacteria – the growth of green algae – that introduces oxygen and stabilizes the ph of the water. It also inhibits the formation of residual biofilms.

PWB states that conditions within open reservoirs are more conducive to causing nitrification than conditions in closed reservoirs. EPA says the opposite, “nitrifiers are very sensitive to near UV, visual, and fluorescent light; consequently, nitrification episodes in distribution systems occur in the dark (in covered reservoirs, pipelines, taps, etc.)” Bacteria stop in sunlight.

Portland’s Bull Run drinking water is treated with chlorine and ammonia in a process referred to as “Chloramination.” Sodium hydroxide is added to raise the pH of the water and reduce corrosion of soft metals, such as lead and copper, from household plumbing. Groundwater is also chlorinated and the pH is controlled.1

Fernandez’ concern is that, in a closed system, chlorine and ammonia gases build up and form more dangerous by-products like N-nitrosodimethylamine, a known carcinogen.

When a person drinks the water, showers or washes clothes, they are exposed  to the water. Over time, exposure to these by- products of chlorine and ammonia effect the cardiovascular, liver function, neurological, renal and reproductive systems.

A large portion of Portland Metropolitan homes are affected by  radon. If your house has detected radon, it’s usually a fairly simple fix: create ventilation. According to the EPA there is  “no safe level of exposure” and it  is “the highest risk for cancer contaminant in drinking water.”

PWB’s Cuti stated that, “Radon has never been detected in the Bull Run surface water supply. In past years, radon has been detected at varying levels in Portland’s groundwater wells. Based on the historical levels and limited amount of groundwater used, radon is unlikely to contribute to adverse health effects.

So what happens if we do have to draw water extensively from the Columbia South Shore Well Fields, Fernandez asks. There have been times in the past where the turbulence from Bull Run has made us rely for up to 88 days on those well fields.

The Radon Decay Product Particles chart presented by Fernandez showed  very grim statistics if radon does break down; nothing good for human consumption.

Rochester, New York’s elected officials continue to seek a waiver for their uncovered reservoirs. They were given an extension until 2022.

Senator Schumer (D-NY) said “science will determine the ultimate outcome”. Like Fernandez’ reason for seeking a waiver, US Rep. Engels (D-NY) said, “we’re just trying to get at the public health impact.” Like Fernandez, they see little connection between the blanket EPA LT2 ruling about cryptosporidium and their citizens’ health.

In a letter written by Caswell F. Holloway, Commissioner of NYC Environmental Protection to Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA, he states, “The draft LT2 rule included a waiver provision that would have allowed for site-specific risk assessments and appropriate treatments. This waiver provision was inexplicably eliminated from the final LT2 rule.”

Fernandez and other like- minded individuals believe that science will prevail, hopefully before the pipes at Mt. Tabor are disconnected. The City meanwhile denies both Fernandez’s science and his interpretation of the New York situation.

If this is a concern of yours too, he suggests you write Charlie Hales and Portland City Council at:

1221 SW Fourth Ave.

Portland, OR 97204


Protecting Important Functional Icons

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top