Note to readers: The Portland Water Bureau (PWB) contacted The Southeast Examiner after publication of this article in the June 2020 issue with concerns about inaccuracies. Below the original article you will find a reprint of the entire article with PWB’s comments added in bold italic. 

By Nancy Tannler

The need to reevaluate the decision by City Council to build Portland Water Bureau’s (PWB) filtration plant project is gaining momentum once again.

At a recent City Council hearing about the project Commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty and Chloe Eudaly both deferred approval. Hardesty said she was not onboard 100 percent; Eudaly concurred.

Since the inception of the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water rule (LT2) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2005, community advocates have been wrangling with PWB to find the best and most economical way to protect our pure Bull Run water delivery system and to keep Mt. Tabor and Washington Park’s reservoirs intact while complying with LT2.

The litany of controversies between Friends of the Reservoir, Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association and other citizens began when PWB, in keeping with the LT2 ruling, wanted to dismantle the reservoirs as well as take them offline.

Advocates to “Save the Reservoirs” managed to keep them intact after years of lobbying and obtaining a designation on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2009, this group also halted the sale of “surplus” property around Mt. Tabor Park. This property included the Maintenance Yard and Nursery off SE Division and the Long Block.

Here in 2020, Friends of the Reservoir and other activists are still beseeching City Council, PWB and the citizens of Portland to hear them out.

Floy Jones, Lauren Courter, Dee White and Jeff Knapp testified before City Council in April, stating the reasons they object to the water filtration plant and why we should return to the original ultraviolet treatment plant.

Jones stuck to her primary talking points. 1. The PWB has a history of mismanaging rate-payers’ money. 2. A filtration plant will increase our water bills dramatically. 3. There have been no deaths from cryptosporidium in the Bull Run watershed for over 100 years. 4. A filtration plant will add more chemicals to our drinking water.

Dee White opposes this project on the grounds that PWB obfuscated the true cost when they presented the plan to City Council back in 2017 estimating it to be between $350 and $500 million. It is now around $1 billion. (The UV disinfection facility would cost $105 million.) White also does not believe this project will provide 7,000 new jobs.

Jeff Knapp has followed this issue and his observations went from a curious to a concerned citizen. Doing the math on the project, the average citizen will be paying $430 more a year for water. That’s on top of the recent 8.7 percent increase we recently incurred.

Knapp reminds us that the PWB already spent $16 million getting permits and creating a design for the UV plant at Headworks. He reiterated that the EPA only requires unfiltered systems to use either chlorine dioxide, ozone or ultraviolet.

When Water Bureau Director Mike Stuhr presented the pro and con sides of UV versus filtration before City Council in June 2017, he commented on what a clean water system we have. Plus he added, we have “this other wonderful water source,” referring to the Columbia South Shore well field in case of turbidity or other issues.

Lauren Courter lives on a blueberry farm abutting the proposed filtration plant. Her Ph.D. in Toxicology and job at Mt. Hood Environmental makes her deeply informed when it comes to understanding the science behind bringing the Bull Run water delivery system up to the EPA codes.

One reason PWB says a filtration plant is necessary is to protect the system from algae and turbidity. Their concern relates to impact from the climate crisis and potential new regulations in the future.

“At the present time,” Courter said, “there are no algae species in Bull Run and the Columbia South Shore wells are already in place for any turbidity.” Filtration is necessary where the systems are compromised.

In her statement before City Council, she said that burdening people with an even higher water bill is unconscionable at this time. COVID-19 has already cost people their jobs, and the City will be redirecting their resources to recover from this crisis.

“The granular media filtration plant is a nice project but not necessary,” she added.

Even though the filtration plant has been approved, ground hasn’t been broken on it. A year ago, Courter asked John Emme of the Oregon Health Authority if the Compliance Agreement could be changed from a filtration plant to ozone and ultraviolet. He said yes, but it would take a lot of work.

Another controversy in this issue is the promise that the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) – a long-term, low-cost supplemental loan from the EPA, would help defer costs. The two percent interest is low but calculating that on a $554 million loan makes this project even more expensive than the $750 million to $1 billion that is being estimated now.

Currently PWB has put in an application for the WIFIA loan but they have not submitted all the necessary documents required by the EPA to complete the loan application.

Since it isn’t complete, Courter said the WIFIA loan could also be used for the less expensive ozone/ultraviolet treatment plant. It would just require a new application.

Newly-elected City Commissioner Carmen Rubio said, “We are facing a public health crisis right now and it’s been a jolting reminder about how important it is for government to protect the health of all of our community members.

“Access to clean water is a public health issue and I am always open to having a conversation and learning new information, but unless a cheaper, equally effective solution, that meets health standards, is found, this project should move forward.”

This is the hope of those who want to stop the filtration project, that City Council members remain open to other reliable sources of information regarding the future of the Bull Run water.

To share your opinion, write and/or call each Commissioner urging them to reevaluate these choices. People can offer statements to the Public Utility Board, the community oversight body for PWB, at utilityboard@portlandoregon.gov or 503.823.1810.

———————————————————- REPRINT —————————————————————

The need to reevaluate the decision by City Council to build Portland Water Bureau’s (PWB) filtration plant project is gaining momentum once again.

At a recent City Council hearing about the project Commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty and Chloe Eudaly both deferred approval. (PWB–They voted to approve the WIFIA ordinance.)

Since the inception of the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water rule (LT2) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2005, community advocates have been wrangling with PWB to find the best and most economical way to protect our pure Bull Run water delivery system and to keep Mt. Tabor and Washington Park’s reservoirs intact while complying with LT2.

The litany of controversies between Friends of the Reservoir, Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association and other citizens began when PWB, in keeping with the LT2 ruling, wanted to dismantle the reservoirs as well as take them offline.

Advocates to “Save the Reservoirs” managed to keep them intact after years of lobbying and obtaining a designation on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2009, this group also halted the sale of “surplus” property around Mt. Tabor Park. This property included the Maintenance Yard and Nursery off SE Division and the Long Block.

Here in 2020, Friends of the Reservoir and other activists are still beseeching City Council, PWB and the citizens of Portland to hear them out.

Floy Jones, Lauren Courter, Dee White and Jeff Knapp testified before City Council in April, stating the reasons they object to the water filtration plant and why we should return to the original ultraviolet treatment plant.

Jones stuck to her primary talking points. 1. The PWB has a history of mismanaging rate-payers’ money. 2. A filtration plant will increase our water bills dramatically. 3. There have been no deaths from cryptosporidium in the Bull Run watershed for over 100 years. 4. A filtration plant will add more chemicals to our drinking water.

Dee White opposes this project on the grounds that PWB obfuscated the true cost when they presented the plan to City Council back in 2017 estimating it to be between $350 and $500 million. It is now around $1 billion. The UV disinfection facility would cost $105 million. (PWB–Estimates presented to City Council in 2017 were $105M for UV, based on plans prepared in 2012 that would need to be revised. UV is a less expensive but the 2 percent inflation rate is speculation. Construction costs change at a different rate than inflation, and the $112M estimate is not accurate). White also does not believe this project will provide 7,000 new jobs.

Jeff Knapp has followed this issue and his observations went from a curious to a concerned citizen. Doing the math on the project, the average citizen will be paying $430 more a year for water. That’s on top of the recent 8.7 percent increase we recently incurred. (PWB says you are looking at the projected rate increase, which we update each year through a forecasting process. Portland City Council adopted 6.5 percent rate increase for FY 2020-21.)

Knapp reminds us that the PWB already spent $16 million getting permits and creating a design for the UV plant at Headworks. He reiterated that the EPA only requires unfiltered systems to use either chlorine dioxide, ozone or ultraviolet.

When Water Bureau Director Mike Stuhr presented the pro and con sides of UV versus filtration before City Council in June 2017, he commented on what a clean water system we have. Plus he added, we have “this other wonderful water source,” referring to the Columbia South Shore well field in case of turbidity or other issues.

Lauren Courter lives on a blueberry farm abutting the proposed filtration plant. Her Ph.D. in Toxicology and job at Mt. Hood Environmental makes her deeply informed when it comes to understanding the science behind bringing the Bull Run water delivery system up to the EPA codes.

One reason PWB says a filtration plant is necessary is to protect the system from algae and turbidity. Their concern relates to impact from the climate crisis and potential new regulations in the future.

“At the present time,” Courter said, “there are no algae species in Bull Run and the Columbia South Shore wells are already in place for any turbidity.” (PWBA blend of groundwater and Bull Run water meet summer demands, not groundwater alone. There are algae species in the Bull Run). Filtration is necessary where the systems are compromised.

In her statement before City Council, she said that burdening people with an even higher water bill is unconscionable at this time. COVID-19 has already cost people their jobs, and the City will be redirecting their resources to recover from this crisis.

“The granular media filtration plant is a nice project but not necessary,” she added.

Even though the filtration plant has been approved, ground hasn’t been broken on it. A year ago, Courter asked John Emme of the Oregon Health Authority if the Compliance Agreement could be changed from a filtration plant to ozone and ultraviolet. He said yes, but it would take a lot of work.

Another controversy in this issue is the promise that the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) – a long-term, low-cost supplemental loan from the EPA, would help defer costs. The two percent interest is low but calculating that on a $554 million loan makes this project even more expensive than the $750 million to $1 billion that is being estimated now. (PWB–Projects costs are paid as incurred, not deferred. Project costs are paid either with WIFIA funding, water sales revenues or proceeds from water revenue bonds. However, loan repayments on the WIFIA loan can start five years after project completion.)

Currently PWB has put in an application for the WIFIA loan but they have not submitted all the necessary documents required by the EPA to complete the loan application. (PWB has submitted the full application, providing all information required for the application. EPA asked for additional information to augment the application.) 

Since it isn’t complete, Courter said the WIFIA loan could also be used for the less expensive ozone/ultraviolet treatment plant. It would just require a new application. (PWB has submitted the full application, providing all information required for the application. EPA asked for additional information to augment the application.) 

Newly-elected City Commissioner Carmen Rubio said, “We are facing a public health crisis right now and it’s been a jolting reminder about how important it is for government to protect the health of all of our community members.

“Access to clean water is a public health issue and I am always open to having a conversation and learning new information, but unless a cheaper, equally effective solution, that meets health standards, is found, this project should move forward.”

This is the hope of those who want to stop the filtration project, that City Council members remain open to other reliable sources of information regarding the future of the Bull Run water.

To share your opinion, write and/or call each Commissioner urging them to reevaluate these choices. People can offer statements to the Public Utility  Board, the community oversight body for PWB, at utilityboard@portlandoregon.gov or 503.823.1810.