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Monday, July 27, 2009

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.

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.

A comment on OregonLive echoes these concerns:

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.

Comments (13)

"City of Portland's next moves regarding the federal government's insistence that the city do something"

They already have (unless you count stalling like they did with dumping sewage in the Willamette). What do you think the justification for the 18% increase in water is for? It's the just-in-case money they're collecting.

PS - I wouldn't count on a refund if we don't have to do what the Feds want.

Commissioners Fish and Saltzman are up for re-election next May ...

Did you hear the one about the mayor, the legislative intern, and the outdoor toilet? If so, could you tell me, because I'm dying to hear it.

First city council tried to decimate Oregon breweries with a massive beer tax, now the EPA wants to mess with the water supply. It seems like only a matter of time before some level of government decimates the Porltand brewing industry.

Take Fish, Fritz & Saltz down to one of the Benson bubblers (or some activists should do a press conference there at one with the Willamette and barge or ship traffic in the background) -- or invite him to quaff an un-unfiltered Hefeweitzen at Widmers' Gasthaus with the people (fundraiser for May?) -- for a safe drinking water refresher course....but no matter what, don't ever let them drink Randy's Kuul-Ayde!

Long Live Dr. Joe Miller! Go check out his Bull Run Advisory Group's (BRAG) archives at the Multnomah County Library. Get right by Portland's hallowed clean drinking water heritage. You owe it to yourself & your loved ones.

Portland 2035, in a maglev restaurant sphere in the heart of the Seismic District:

Patron: "I'll just have a glass of water, please."

Waiter: "Will that be with or without detect levels of estrogen, Prozac, coumadin, nano silver, [etc., etc.]....and would you like that with or without Hanford process?

They're all filtered, of course. Our prices start at $1 million yenros. Whatever you choose, I suggest shot of the house epinephrine, just in case you need a chaser."

Either way, can't you just see the famous scene from 2035's Oscar-winning film, "When Harry Met Sally at The Korova Milk Bar" -- after a nearby female patron convulses in seizures, an older lady with a blue magnesium wig at the next booth tells her waitress, "I'll have what she's having."

Correction on the great Dr. Miller's library files: that's BRAC for Bull Run Advisory Committee.

And check this recent article by one of Portland's unsung bona fide environmental heroes of Portland citizens' drinking water protection efforts:

The Battle of Bull Run
By Douglas Larson
May-June 2009 American Scientist
The Magazine of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

While watching Roman Polanski’s classic 1974 movie Chinatown recently, I was reminded of a similar Machiavellian drama that played out here in Portland, Oregon, over several decades. Polanski’s movie is based loosely on the California water wars of the last century involving controversial and underhanded efforts by the City of Los Angeles to acquire water rights in the Owens Valley for the city’s municipal water supply. What happened in Portland was also about greed and bureaucratic malfeasance that nearly destroyed the City of Portland’s principal source of drinking water, the Bull Run Watershed serving about one million people. The long, bitter struggle over the watershed’s use became known as the Battle of Bull Run.

As a participating scientist in this conflict, I learned some hard lessons about the role of scientists in factious environmental issues: First, the systematic process of scientific research is not well-suited to resolving issues in which prevailing economic or political forces demand simple, prompt answers. Second, scientists who seek nothing but truth in their investigations are often ignored or, worse, defamed by those whose economic or political agendas are threatened. And third, despite the common belief that scientific objectivity and science-based decisions will prevail over the rough-and-tumble world of confrontational politics and competing self-interests, the capacity of scientists to solve environmental issues fairly and expeditiously is usually overestimated. The ensuing, often acrimonious scientific debates become themselves stumbling blocks to final resolution. Meanwhile, the public waits for these interminable conflicts to be resolved, confused by the barrage of technical information and disinformation, and thus unsure of whom to believe. At stake is the region’s economic prosperity on the one hand, and environmental quality and dwindling natural resources on the other—in other words, competing values. In the end, resolution is often achieved not by scientific resolution and decision-making, but by people simply deciding what they value most.

Full article

But, but it's SHOVEL READY . . . and FOR THE CHILDREN!

And no doubt it will raise our Euro profile in some way I haven't yet figured out.

I'm just waiting for Fireman Randy to announce a record-breaking concept:

a. a water filtration plant that serves as a basement for...

b. a baseball stadium, decorated with...

c. a big neon "B" (for Beavers) atop the stadium's rim.

What a concept! Just think, three golden-fleece ideas in one megabuilding project.

But wait, there's more:
d. if only the whole thing could straddle the Columbia River, thereby providing the infrastructure for a new Interstate Bridge (and capturing federal funds to cover the I-5 synergy).

Whew! Just think of all the lawyers and spin-meisters that would be employed!

I used to think lawyers as elected officials was not a good thing. However, Randy Airhead's apparent lack of legal literacy is making me rethink that one.

In response to being challenged to issue a legal challenge to this irrational (remember the rational basis test constitutional kiddie scholars) mandate, RandLe responded " I understand why you think it would be satisfying to defy a federal law that really does not make sense. However, I am not able to just observe what I think others should do and then proffer advice that I would not be accountable for. I am obliged to comply with all federal, state and local laws.The consequence of me not complying would be at minimum Portland taxpayers
being fined millions of dollars. I have also been advised that the feds could actually take over Portland's water system and make the necessary
treatment improvements.

I appreciate your passion but I hope you balance that with what is possible. "

As Lucifer's Advocate I was compelled to answer the twit with this:

"A legal challenge to a federal mandate is not "defying" the law. It is in fact, a
perfectly valid exercise of our constitutional rights as Americans. If any law by any governmental body fails to pass constitutional muster, then the law is not enforceable under the U.S. Constitution. Period. That is not defiance. Defiance is dumping tea in the Boston Harbor or FAA traffic controllers going on strike. I hope that these simple facts are within your view of what is possible and what is defiance. Please take advantage of the well paid legal staff that the city employs to look into the feasibility of a challenge to this mandate.

In the case at hand, Portland's water supply meets all federal standards. Fact. This federal mandate to protect water is not rational in its application to Portland's water supply and probably many others. There is a well known constitutional standard about the" rational basis test". It is my opinion that this federal mandate fails that test because the water already complies with federal standards without taking this action. Prima facie.

It is also my opinion that a number of other municipalities could make the same claim and join together in fighting this federal mandate.

It is also my opinion that all of these municipalities and especially Portland have a duty to their stakeholders (namely those of us who finance this city each and every day) to stand-up to unfunded and
irrational federal mandates. To put it simply, Portland should institute a federal class action lawsuit against
acting on this mandate.

Your duty is to protect this city, its taxpayers, its water supply. Your duty is not to pander to bureaucrats in
Washington, DC or the corporations who will make massive profits from implementing this (and probably
feed your campaign coffers). "

I've never heard of anyone getting anywhere arguing like that with the Fireman. The only thing to do when he goes off on one of his Caesar salads is to round up three votes against him.

Yeah, Randy's delirious. In addition to Jack's efficacious time-released curative, and besides a "laying on of hands," there's an additional fast-acting prescription to complement Randy's therapy: more cowbell!

Maybe it's time to bring them to his public appearances and clang away whenever he starts his now chronic blatherings. A bonus would be that the soccer nuts wouldn't get the irony of that.

You're phantomsizing, Randy, phantomsizing!


We out in Beaverton wouldn't mind some Bull Run water mixed into what comes out of our taps...

A federalism challenge in federal courts might not be a bad idea.

Under Rehnquist the supremes took numerous whacks at the power of Washington to dictate to state and local govts.

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