Portland’s Unfiltered Water System

ahalliburtonskydarScott Fernandez M.Sc. Biology   chemistry/microbiology

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the EPA Science Advisory Board Drinking Water Committee knew from the beginning what the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Drinking Water Rule (LT2) outcome would be.

This is because they  used scientific methods that were confirmed to be rejected: inconsistent laboratory methods of microbial identification; cryptosporidium sampling bias against unfiltered drinking water systems (such as Portland’s); reneging on agreements of sample interpretation data and substituting highly run/processed computer programs instead of traditional scientific methods relying on what was actually observed in the field.

Much outdated information continues to exist from many years ago, regarding the EPA Long Term 2 Surface Water Treatment Rule.

In March 1993 for nearly four  weeks, the citizens of south Milwaukee Wisconsin drank partially-treated sewage water because of a defective drinking water filtration treatment system.

Sewage contains hundreds of disease-causing microorganism species and trillions of microorganisms discharged into their drinking water; yet EPA incorrectly identified only cryptosporidium as the microbial cause of the Milwaukee drinking water incident.

This catastrophic sewage event was the origin and basis for EPA Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Treatment Rule; wherein EPA went on to initiate large water utility sampling processes that were inconsistent and inconclusive.

Critical errors made by EPA were adopting a one size fits all regulation for large public drinking water utilities, knowingly using frozen cryptosporidium specimens for basis of regulation, laboratories that were not prepared or qualified to provide accurate microbial assessments.

This resulted in promoting a water sampling program Information Collection Rule that provided inconclusive and useless results, and changing sampling results using assumptions based on estimates.

Fernandez has outlined his argument about the EPA’s testing in an article that can be found in its entirety online at: southeastexaminer.com

Tale of Two Cities- EPA applies LT2 Rule to Milwaukee and Portland 

EPA – One Size Fits All

Our Bull Run watershed has no industrial, agricultural, or municipal sewage exposure, thus eliminating the threat of corresponding microbial and chemical public health risks.

Frozen samples are to be rejected because EPA and CDC were so late in arriving to the drinking water sewage catastrophe, the incident was over and they had to rely on blocks of commercial ice for testing. This was the first of many EPA mistakes;  one of most defining in the LT2 process as they claimed Cryptosporidium was the only primary microorganism found in the block of sewage laden ice. Bacteria, viruses, or other parasites in a sewage event would remain in large numbers. EPA knew this was wrong because frozen Cryptosporidium generate expanding internal ice crystals breaking the cell wall, making them impossible to ever accurately identify. (EPA Method 1623  – samples that the laboratory has determined froze during shipment, must be rejected)

Lab results used in Milwaukee sewage event highly inaccurate

Prior to 1998, the method recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for protozoan analysis of drinking water in the United States was the Information Collection Rule (ICR) Protozoan method. Problems with the Protozoan method are well documented and include low recovery efficiencies, high false-positivity, and poor precision and accuracy. The method is labor intensive, and recoveries are erratic, even in expert laboratories. (Clancy, J. L., W. D. Gollnitz, and Z. Tabib. 1994. Commercial labs: how accurate are they? J. Am. Water Works Assoc. 86(5):89-97.) False positives can originate from algae, organic debris, Isospora, Cyclospora, etc.

Still EPA proceeded with the defective ICR Protozoan method

Filtered and unfiltered utilities continued sample using the flawed Protozoan method.  Because “The ICR method has a number of limitations (i.e., low recovery efficiencies, precision, accuracy and wide intra- and inter- laboratory variability) is therefore not believed to be an adequate method to determine necessary treatment level.” (Protozoan Method Development Stakeholder Meeting December 16, 1997.) But the EPA did not stop there, and developed two new methods that improved reliability and sampling recovery EPA 1622 and EPA 1623 known as the ICRSS1 and ICRSS2 supplemental survey.

Unfiltereds used the ICR method. “Only ICR provided data to evaluate Cryptosporidium occurrence in Unfiltered public water service (PWS) sources.” (Federal Register Vol 71  No. 3 2006)  ICR had a 10% sample recovery while ICRSS’s had a 40% recovery a comparison of the two methods showed that the ICR method is not as favorable as the Method 1622. (EPA 1999 ICR Treatment Methods) The ICRSS data are better predictors than the ICR data of what the impact of the rule will be as proposed. (AWWA 2005) Because the Unfiltereds had to use the defective and unreliable ICR Protozoan Method, it placed them at a disadvantage of meeting a higher threshold of Cryptosporidium recovery placing them in a position of having to add treatment and cover the reservoirs to show Cryptosporidium could be managed. None of the Unfiltereds had issues with Cryptosporidium because they had no catastrophic sewage events. Different methods showed a clear negative bias towards Unfiltered.

EPA says zero is not zero (AWWA 2005)

EPA initially agreed that the data from the Cryptosporidium sampling processes would reflect any observed result of “zero equals zero”. EPA later determined a totally different approach to meet their intended outcome. “EPA imposes an assumption that only 1 out of every 1000 “zeroes” observed in the database is truly a zero. The agency is thus estimating occurrence and risk based on a presumption that 999 out of every 1000 observed zeroes in the database are instead one oocyst or more.” (AWWA 2005)


The EPA projection of LT2 public health benefits never turned out like they expected, because their computerized estimates based on assumptions were incorrect. EPA projected hundreds of people dying every year, tens of thousands of people involved in Cryptosporidium drinking water outbreaks and endemic disease. None of this occurred.

Portland’s Bull Run and open reservoir drinking water system has never had a physician confirmed illness from drinking water in the 120 years of existence. We have spent a half billion dollars already for a public health problem that does not exist. Portlanders need to demand from Portland City Council an EPA LT2 Waiver and retain our open reservoirs that will provide safe and healthy drinking water venting and removing toxic, carcinogenic chemicals, such as Radon (Columbia South Shore Well field), chloroform, and nitrates.

What we have shown today is just the tip of the iceberg regarding poor EPA methodologies and their basis for LT2 regulation. Please write/call your elected officials.


*Scott Fernandez has been working on the EPA LT2 regulation since he was a member of the City of Portland Water Quality Advisory Committee 1996-2000 and Portland Utility Review Board 2001-2008. His papers published with EPA in 2003 and later, confirmed Cryptosporidium was not the principle public health issue in Milwaukee, but a month long major microbial catastrophic sewage event.

**Unfiltered systems- New York City, Boston, Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, San Francisco





Portland’s Unfiltered Water System

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