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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 22, 2010 11:01 AM. The previous post in this blog was Hot from Teacher. The next post in this blog is The PGE Park sewer "surcharge". Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Is the City of Portland wimping out on open reservoirs?

The folks who don't want to see the City of Portland cover or disconnect its open drinking water reservoirs, in Mount Tabor Park and Washington Park, are pretty much tilting at windmills. The city fathers -- most notably the city's RDE (Richard Daley equivalent), Fireman Randy -- already have a huge water storage tank going in at Powell Butte. And they've noted in several places that the days of the reservoirs, at least as functioning part of the water distribution system, are numbered.

Nonetheless, the open reservoir fans press on undaunted. In a letter to the City Council earlier this week, they wrote:

On December 16, 2009 EPA replied to Commissioner Leonard’s November 2009 request for clarification regarding the reservoir Variance application process. In this reply the EPA contends that the Variance provided for by Congress within the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is not available for the open reservoirs.

Ten months ago in March 2009 EPA responded in the same manner to New York City, another city seeking to retain their large Hillview open reservoir. New York was not deterred by EPA’s response and New York’s legal team advised the Portland Water Bureau that the EPA’s interpretation of the variance applicability is in fact wrong. We agree EPA is wrong. The SDWA clearly authorizes EPA to grant a variance from the LT2 "cover or treat" Cryptosporidium "treatment technique" requirement.

New York’s Department of Environmental Quality spent more than a year compiling data, 161 pages, to support the retention of its Hillview reservoir. Unfortunately, during that same period of time the Portland Water Bureau focused a majority of its resources on developing and implementing fast-tracked reservoir burial projects, doing so without any public involvement.

New York City’s extensive undeterred efforts to preserve their open reservoir provide a clear blueprint for action by the City of Portland. The community expectation is that the City makes a serious effort to secure the available SWDA reservoir variance, an effort evidenced in part by a Water Bureau work product. A single late-date letter to the EPA regarding a reservoir variance is not enough.

The Friends of the Reservoirs offer the following advice:

1. Stop approving consultant contracts. The plan filed with the EPA in March 2009 gives YOU, City Council the power to alter the plan or the pace at which it is implemented. As noted in the fine print, the reservoir burial plan is contingent upon City Council approval of individual projects, it can be renegotiated with the EPA if the City Council does not approve the current schedule for any particular project within it.

2. Require the Portland Water Bureau to prepare a detailed report documenting relevant scientific data in support of a reservoir variance.

3. Seek an extension or deferral from the EPA from the burial projects. Community stakeholders have long recommended this action for both the open reservoirs and the source water requirement.

4. Engage the assistance of the City Attorney and/or outside counsel Foley Hoag.

5. Seek further assistance from Senator Jeff Merkley who has demonstrated his support for retention of the open reservoirs.

6. Submit the data to the EPA or state of Oregon if the state has assumed Primacy for the regulation; in 2006 the state legislature unanimously approved and the Governor signed into law a state provision for variances with the full knowledge that Portland would be seeking such a variance for its open reservoirs.

7. Do not rule out legislation. The opportunity for further Congressional intervention is not only possible but also likely in light of the acknowledged flaws with EPA’s source water variance plan.

Good luck, people. The fix is already in with the construction boys on the underground tanks -- and the condo boys will be moving in for the reservoir sites shortly. Go by streetcar!

Comments (7)

I believe the reservoir at the corner of 60th and Division had water in it back in 78 when I first started living in SE. It was taken off line and an assisted living complex was built on the Reservoir so your condo comment may not be all that far off.

SOo which buddies of Salzman's get these contracts? Remember when we went thru the covered reservoirs thing a couple of years ago and he tried to steer it to a local outfit that just happened to have a lot of ex-PWB employees?

Saltzman's not running the water bureau any more, and so this time the cronyism, if any, would be from Mr. C. Randy Leonard.

Jack, The same players are now friends of Randy's. The main player, a former WB employee, wasn't pulling in the contracts at Montgomery Watson Harza, so he moved to CH2MHill. He and his buddies regularly sign in at the WB and show up in suits at the City Council meetings when WB-related emergency ordinances are on the agenda. "We need to approve this $XXX million bond NOW before the public finds out." The potential debt the City is facing with this soccer stadium deal is peanuts compared to debt the WB is guaranteeing. With no benefit whatsoever for the ratepayers. None.

It goes beyond any one commissioner or mayor since the same consultant has been handed the work since the 1990's. Whoever he works for makes money no matter what happens...doing water testing, writing a new law to force what the community wouldn't do willingly, or doing the sampling for the variance to see if Portland should be granted one....the answer is "No". Is anyone really convinced they were working up a sweat to get one?

It's tragic the way Leonard and Adams have given up on protecting our watershed and our open reservoirs. It's hard to understand why they never gave up on major league soccer, but they've given up the fight on our water and these historical structures in our parks. Too bad the reservoirs don't have an advocate with a papa from Goldman Sachs - then maybe Leonard and Adams would still be fighting for our water.

The poorly crafted negotiated EPA LT2 regulation was in developement for 13 years and is flawed in its final form.

Our PWB under Sten's leadership played a critical role in negotiating this rule. PWB hired a former WB official, Joe Glicker who was then representing Montgomery, Watson, Harza global to assist PWB in negotiating a rule that now benefits MWH and Glicker's new corporate home CH2MHIll.

And yes this is the same crowd that was around during Saltzman's reign,the same crowd that had multiple reservoir-related contracts. The same crowd that has outlined every major capital project that the PWB will undertake for the next 25-50 years.

Saltzman's 2004 $500,000 reservoir panel found no public health problems, no unique risks or problems, no reason to treat, cover or bury, but the PWB and CH2MHill, MWH work very hard at managing and misleading the public.

What is new since 2004? The PWB participated in an American Water Works Research Foundation Infectious Crypto study (May 2009) likely in hopes of actually finding a reason to bury the reservoirs. Extensive open reservoir sampling detected ZERO Crypto. Thus the PWB has the data to fight the Cryptosporidium "treatment technique" requirement that we additionally treat our reservoirs. Burial is considered "treatment" for the non- existent problem.

A $23 million Slayden Construction Group contract for open reservoir upgrade work at Tabor and Washington Park, is still outstanding as is another consultant contract for open reserovir upgrade projects.

$45 million has been spent on open reservoir upgrades between 2003 and 2010, projects designed to keep them in good shape until 2050 per a consultant report.

Randy had committed to a broad-based group of community stakeholders that he would pursue reservoir alternatives yet he has not required his Water Bureau to prepare the necessary data.Open reservoirs provide drinking water to tens of millions across the nation and will continue to do so long after our perfectly designed open reservoir system is degraded.


The result for Portlanders from burial of the open reservoirs includes major Water Bureau debt, massive increases in your water bill and new public health risks associated only with buried tanks.

Cancer-causing nitrification is a risk only with buried storage- it occurs in the absence of sunlight in systems like ours that chloraminate. Portland already has a N.E. Portland Radon problem. Burying the open reservoirs risks venting more of the Columbia South Shore ground water Radon (Portland's secondary lower quality source water is ground water next to the Columbia river) into Porland homes.

$403 million in burial costs for no measurable public health benefit, creating new risks, and doubling water bills.

More large water users will leave town. Small businesses and the average home owner will suffer.

City Council and the Congressional delegation have already heard from 25 organizations who support a reservoir variance or waiver.

With several on the Council up for reelection (or recall) public pressure can stop the bleeding with the Powell Butte reservoir project. At least 10 corporate contracts are on the way if the PWB gets their way and these burial projects proceed.



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