Wednesday showdown brewing over Portland water
The past week has brought to our attention a fair amount of rumbling about the City of Portland's next moves regarding the federal government's insistence that the city do something to prevent the invasion of the parasite cryptosporidium into its water supply. There hasn't been even a trace of that particular bug in Portland's water in years, but rules are rules, and the EPA apparently isn't going to let the city take any chances.
So what to do about it? The city says that it's trying to jawbone the feds into giving it an exemption -- if the EPA won't grant one, then maybe Congress can legislate one -- but that it can't sit around waiting for that to happen. And so it's going to start spending many, many millions of dollars building a system to prevent the parasite from showing up in the water.
Fireman Randy, who runs the water bureau when he's not designing neon signs and outdoor toilets, has (shall we say) expressed a clear preference for a filtration plant. And an upcoming City Council resolution that he's introducing directs the Water Bureau "to engage immediately in the necessary planning, design, budgeting, permitting and land acquisition and any other activities necessary to prepare for the construction of a direct filtration facility." Once we're talking land acquisition, we're way down the road toward building the plant. And like so many of the lovable things the good fireman does, this has got a whole bunch of people crying foul.
Among these, as we noted the other day, are the Widmer Brothers, who say filtration will wreck their beers, which are brewed with Portland water. But the sibling sultans of suds are only the tip of the ticked-off iceberg. Lots of other voices are piping up with other concerns. One correspondent of ours writes:
Filtration is another construction industry boondoggle at taxpayers' and ratepayers' expense. The filtration plant will allow Portland to force people to drink Willamette and Tualatin River water -- though full of PPCPs [pharmaceuticals and personal care products], ag runoff, ag livestock drugs & hormones, petroleum road-slick runoff, anthropogenic radionuclides, etc.A comment on OregonLive echoes these concerns:
The filtration plant will also allow the Portland metro area to continue to exceed its carrying capacity, population-wise. Portland needs to stay away from using urban/suburban corridor surface waters for drinking. They're messing with a good thing.
At the PURB meeting on June 23, Water Bureau officials lobbied for their filtration plant dreams, citing "other" benefits to the Bureau’s bottom line. They openly discussed how the filtration plant would allow for the creation of a blend center, at which water from the Willamette and Columbia Rivers could be mixed into our drinking water system. Once we mix Willamette or Columbia River water with our drinking water, we too will drink the fertilizers my neighbor dumps on his lawn, and the pharmaceuticals he dumps in his body, and a whole host of other "trace" chemicals the 21st century adds to surface and sewer water but doesn’t filter out before drinking it, again. There they will be, mixed and blended with our pristine, organic Bull Run water, thereby permanently adulterating its purity with Teflon and acetaminophen.The whole "drink the Willamette" issue isn't as far-fetched as one might think. Some suburbs of Portland are already drinking that slop because hey! It's filtered! All the bad stuff magically goes away. Once Portland's got filtration in place, all water will be the same!
Maybe then the Erik Sten pipedream of turning the Bull Run watershed over to a regional water authority, dominated by suburban interests, can become a reality. It will be another Metro or Tri-Met or Port, an area-wide yada-yada. And who knows what Portlanders will get out of their taps, and at what price, under that sort of setup.
Some critics suggest that the city ought to fight the feds tooth and nail and see if they will truly force the issue. The city dragged its feet for years as it polluted the heck out of the Willamette; why fall into line so complacently when there's no harm being done by the status quo? Could it be that project-hungry bureaucrats and construction pork are once again driving the public process in the Rose City? "I will not put Portland citizens in the untenable position of being subjected to fines and even a potential federal take over of our water system if we refuse to comply with federal law," Fireman Randy has written. This is a guy who huffs and puffs when it suits him; now he's playing Mr. Peepers. If the federal government wants to fight the parasite, maybe it could contract it out and pay for it.
Among the opponents of the filtration plant are the Friends of the Reservoirs, those noble folks who shamed the city out of covering its open reservoirs a few years back. Unless the city beats back the feds, it's pretty clear that the reservoirs are going to be either covered or disconnected. If left uncovered, they might have water in them -- at least for a while -- but it will be strictly for decoration. And then how long will it be before they're regarded as an unnecessary expense and converted to some "higher" use? And so that crowd is obviously going to be unhappy with anything short of a federal exemption.
Perhaps the best argument against the filtration scenario is that ultraviolet radiation treatment, which is apparently much cheaper, will be enough to satisfy the EPA without messing with the beer or opening up the slop mixer. The liars' budgets on the two types of plant are currently reported as $385 million for filtration, and "only" $120 million for ultraviolet treatment. San Francisco's currently embarking on the ultraviolet route.
In any event, the matter is on the agenda for Wednesday's Portland City Council meeting, and the opponents, although somewhat weakened in numbers by summer vacations, say they'll be there to express their concerns. Once upon a time Nick Fish, now a city commissioner, opposed filtration, but the Sam-Rand set is probably making his life miserable after he gave Little Lord Paulson only half a loaf. A flipflop could be in the offing. Could make for another interesting meeting.