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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 12, 2010 6:41 AM. The previous post in this blog was If you don't eat yer meat, you can't have any puddin'. The next post in this blog is Portland closes secret loan deal for PGE Park remodel. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

County doc: "What I really said about the reservoirs"

Last weekend we posted an e-mail message we got from one of the folks opposing the disconnecting or covering of Portland's gorgeous open drinking water reservoirs. In it, she pointed out that the chief county health officer, Gary Oxman, had testified at a recent Public Utility Board hearing on the proposed disconnect. She characterized Oxman as saying that "there isn't any sound science linking open reservoirs to any public health risk/problem."

Perhaps in response to that e-mail message, yesterday Dr. Oxman sent a memo to the utility board clarifying what he said:

In my comments, I reviewed my interpretations of some literature and community conversations related to the documented and potential health risks of open reservoirs. I stated that the science of public health tells us relatively little about how to resolve the policy question of whether Portland should cover its existing reservoirs. I also stated my belief that, as a community, we should strive to ensure that all the people of Portland have high-quality drinking water for the next 100 years (as our forebears did 100 years ago). My intent in making these comments was:

1) To point out that the science on documented health impacts alone does not give us a clear and compelling answer to the policy question of whether to cover the reservoirs; and

2) To acknowledge the resulting need to consider a variety of factors – e.g., documented and potential health impacts, best public health practices, legal constraints, and assuring broad and enduring community support for the water system – in making this policy decision.

Interpreting my comments in other ways (for example, to construe them as supporting a case that there is no scientific basis for covering the reservoirs) is not consistent with either my words or my intent.

To us, it sounds like a different spin on the same point. But if we're going to mortgage the water system for some really spendy new capital projects, the burden of proof ought to be on the people wanting to blow the mega-millions. And as the good doctor points out, they can't make the case any more than their opponents can.

Part of us also gets the sneaking feeling that Fireman Randy threatened to either break his legs or get him fired.

Comments (19)

I think Oxman has a very practical view of all this. If there were a real and present danger to our water system, the County Health Officer would be jumping up and down, and yelling loudly to cover up the stored water. He is not doing that. I think that is very telling. The only reason to cover up the drinking water is because the EPA has ordered that it be done.

Frank makes the best point, and one that seems to be perpetually ignored by the opponents of covering the reservoirs - The county lost its case in court and has been ordered to cover them. We fought the EPA. We lost. It's time to follow Al Gore's example and concede defeat.

I too think it's a boondoggle, but apparently other people who have dedicated many more hours of study to this than I have made their case in court and won. I'm moving on.

This is a classic case of where State's Rights (and actually Municipal Rights) trumps Federal mandates.

There is legal precedence to ignore the EPA mandate. The US Constitution was written to allow States to have the ability to set their own precedence.

The issue here is guts (and probably money influencing actions). The state and the city both have the constitutional right to give the EPA the big middle finger.

Trouble is these folks are spineless and so used to sucking off the tit of Federal money they forgot what liberty tastes like.

Mark please go ahead and move on, but you're relying on the spin of Leonard and Shaff, both of whom have gains to be made from the cozy relationships they have brought to the table. Next we'll hear PWB say we got slammed at the Court hearing. Portland put forward a poorly planned and woefully inadequate argument to the Court. A coincidence? Shaff's engineer buddy helped write the flawed EPA regulation, and stands to make a lot of cash.We will hear all kinds of excuses from PWB and Leonard, but the facts remain the same. None of what EPA proposed for health benefits have come true. There is no basis for this at all other than to have Leonard show us who's the boss and print more money, so we can hear that patented cackle. Jack hit the nail on the head, and Stephanie Stewart had it right.

How rich is Mark? Would he care to pay all of the cost for establishing 2 Chem Hills? I thought desecrating hilltops was more of a Tennessee Valley Authority kind of thing.

What is missing is the case for not covering, i.e what happens to the water quality in covered reservoirs? Scott Fernandez states this quite well and clinamen has repeated this information elsewhere in these blogs.

The good doc seems to either not know or is avoiding these concerns.

Can we sue the Feds if covering the reserviors leads to any issues with health and water quality? Probalby not. So why cater to them?

The county lost its case in court

There has been no court proceeding, has there?

The fines if we say No to EPA could take decades before being equal to the billion dollars with debt Leonard and PWB want to tack on to this community for a public health problem that doesn’t exist.

Leonard and PWB have used the “fine” as a way to threaten our community and have even mentioned at meetings, they may have to go to jail. Since they appear to be more interested in giving perks to corporations than in our public interest - then send them to jail! However, that is highly unlikely, and so may the threat of fines be.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/08/business/energy-environment/08water.html?_r=4&pagewanted=1

The problem, say current and former government officials, is that enforcing the Safe Drinking Water Act has not been a federal priority.

“There is significant reluctance within the E.P.A. and Justice Department to bring actions against municipalities, because there’s a view that they are often cash-strapped, and fines would ultimately be paid by local taxpayers,” said David Uhlmann, who headed the environmental crimes division at the Justice Department until 2007.


Even if we did get fined, it would give us some time to get this mess straightened out. What we need to do is shine a light on all of those who are more interested in helping corporations than in our public interest. As far as elected officials, remove them from positions of power as soon as possible and elect new ones. I would think that in a few years, science would prevail and not the political chicanery that brought about this LT2 rule.

So as a community, let us not be led down the merry path by Leonard, PWB and Council.
This needs to be stopped now as they seem to be racing to put the nail on the coffin.

The PURB, who is no friend of the Water Bureau, also supports covering the reservoirs.

Jack,

Yes, we challenged the rule when it came out in 2006. We hired the Boston law firm that successfully challenged the EPA’s rulemaking in attempting to force Boston to filter their drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the same statute that lead to LT2. They were selected with the help of members of Friends of the Reservoirs, PURB and the Large Water Users Coalition.

If you would like some history on the case, as well as access to the briefs and the decision of the court, they can all be found here: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/water/index.cfm?c=52037&

The Court concluded, “… Portland’s and New York’s attacks on this rulemaking are all either inaccurate, irrelevant, or both. EPA used the best available science and provided ample evidence to support the rule, clear notice to the public about what it was considering, and adequate responses to comments. Even if EPA’s cost-benefit analysis, use of science, and responses to comments were as flawed as the cities insist, these errors had no effect on the final rule and were thus harmless. We therefore deny the petition for review.”

I have been asked many times what the consequences for refusing to comply could be. They include:

• The potential fine ranges from $1 to a maximum of $37,500. It could be a daily fine. The EPA is likely to consider each of the 5 reservoirs a separate violation. The potential daily fine is actually $187,500. The potential annual fine is $68,437,500. For perspective that is almost my entire annual operating budget.
• EPA would also not seek just penalties. First, the City could be required to send regular notices to all its customers saying it was out of compliance and advising of potential health risks.
• Second, EPA would seek injunctive relief demanding compliance and the court could and probably would grant that injunctive relief. If the City refused to comply with a court injunction, a U.S. District court would have power to take charge of the Water Bureau (a kind of judicial receivership) and assess rates and run the bureau to force compliance.
• If the City is out of compliance we will be in violation of our wholesale contracts--customers will be in a position of stop buying, if they have alternative source, or demand a substantial drop in the price of water because it is no longer what they contracted for, i.e. "legal water." That would be a major financial hit to the Bureau. 20% of our water revenue comes from our wholesale contracts.
• Potential state sanctions could include loss of our certification to operate a public water system in addition to fines and possible imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months. Each day that the violation continues is a separate offense.

Refusing to comply with federal law, and incurring fines of $37,000 per day for non-compliance, no matter how much the City Council disagrees with the law, is simply not a viable option or approach.

David Shaff, Administrator
Portland Water Bureau

Hasn't the city asked for a waiver or a variance? Was that formally denied? Could it be appealed?

Not all of the parade of horribles listed seem realistic. I don't think there's a federal judge in his or her right mind who would try to run a municipal drinking water system. And not all of Portland's wholesale customers have many other options for water, do they?

And I would pay to see Fireman Randy in the county jail.

This is about way more than just keeping our workable water system and not going into so much debt that it falls out of public hands (very possible). It is about whether we will allow ourselves to be manipulated into giving in to those with a hidden agenda, that doesn't serve the public good. The recent change to campaign funding took away all limits=money equals free speech. In this case, money means you can buy any water system you want by buying the decision makers. You can force the public to build an expensive system they don't need which will further reduce resources for things they do need. If we are serious about protecting the environment and having a public school system, and other things we say we care about, then what has gone on in this process (or lack thereof) needs to be exposed. It is the slow creep of companies replacing 'public servants' and having the decisions based on profit only. That will only speed up the 'crash and burn' scenario we're in.

If we're 'ok' with all of this and only paying 'lip service' to democracy and moving in a better direction....then, by all means, 'move on'. That's what the people with the money want you to do. If we aren't willing to stand up for it and don't even know what we're losing, then it's our own fault.

To David Shaff,

"me thinks thou dost protest too much"
- Shakespeare

Will all due respect, if this were 1775 or so and we were meeting over British rule, you would be the one to fold up your tent and steal away, throwing brickbats at the resisters.

Fast forward to 2010. The colonists took your advice to heart. We would all be singing God save the Queen.

Comparing the civil rights movement to the water rights movement is an abomination, in my opinion. Grasping at straws like this is laughable.

And since you are moving on, grow up AND pack your bags.

I wish the water and sewer bureau could be franchised away from the city of Portland. Cityhall uses sewer and water billings as its own private piggy bank for funding unrelated items like frivolous bike plans (there is nothing wrong with the current bicycling/pedestrian infrastructure. I've been biking and walking this city for over 30 years...it doesn't need an elaborate, expensive new plan).

The EPA could result in the Federal government denying the city funds perhaps already committed to it. But then again Bureaucracies often say "no it can't be done," only there is usually some loop hole somewhere if only known by those outside the bureaucracy.

Cityhall's raids on sewer and water bills is very, very irritating. Faced with decades of sewer and water rate escalation well in excess of inflation, city hall should be sharply reducing its draw on these bills for other purposes. Instead, city hall appropriates these funds at an even faster rate, even in the face of the impending sharp increases in bills for funding these reservoir projects. One additional mitigation measure the city could push for would be to suspend rules requiring high construction labor wages. But do you think the current cityhall regime gives a hoot about a sharp increase in Portlanders cost of living. The answer is apparently a resounding NO.

Miles,
If the PURB is no friend of the water bureau, why does the water bureau do initial screening of the application?

You may be referring to a previous PURB Board. Check on the changes and who has put new people on the current PURB Board. From what I hear they are ignoring the advice and all the good work prior boards have done on behalf of public interest. The Public Utility Board is to be independent from the water bureau. Are they?

I do not know, but if this is a pattern, we all know how “the formula” has been worked in our once beloved city. People wake up and hold all these people accountable.

How could any PURB make a recommendation when the data shows the covered reservoirs are what causes problems? How could any PURB make a case that would add toxic chemicals to our water? How could any PURB advocate for Radon to be backed up into our homes, workplaces and schools?

How? why? who? how? why? who? how? why? who?
????????????????????????????????????????????

The insanity of this, degrading our good drinking water on the basis of politics and not science, and turning it into something horrible to drink. This is all backwards!

This community would do better to offer a whistleblower protection with a million dollars than to be indebted with over a billion. We must keep our good drinking water for the well being of our community.
This is a money thing, and they are using "health" for their game. Those who are in on this should be shunned from our community. Shame on every one of them.

The Water Bureau wants to appear to be fighting something that they're supporting behind the scenes....this makes for "mixed messages" at best. They hire the main consultant who wants the business to work on crafting the rule. They put anyone in charge of whatever activity, the same ones who will also get the contracts (i.e. the regionalization, the variance sampling, Bull Run Treatment Panel), then claim that they are trying so hard.

Parts of the EPA are also helping this happen. They want certain contractors to get the job....like in Spokane, where they showed they don't give a xxxx about the Clean Water Act. That is for the poor public to pay a billion to avoid something that hasn't been a problem. It's not for CH2M Hill who doesn't care that it's dumping more phosporus in the Spokane River, or for any of the other companies listed in the New York Times report on how the worst offenders are largely not fined with anything. We can trust the scientists at the EPA....it's their bosses who need to be challenged.

Awhile ago the EPA employees union wanted a ban on fluoride in the water. Does anyone hear about things like this?

Thank you for you input WaterObserver.
We all need to be water observers. Water is a basic human need and should not ever be put in the arena of those with corporate interests.

Am pleading with all those who read this to put pressure on Leonard, Adams, PWB to stop this game they are playing. The issue was rigged. Our commuity is now being educated despite the O not informing people. We need to be very active soon as the bureau wants to move fast against public interests. Council needs to vote No
on unnecessary expensive projects.

People are distressed about double water bills, and what businesses will be hurt and leave or not consider coming into our area . . very serious stuff. Micro brews with chemicals - yuk!! I am trying to be a cheerleader for our "depressed" community, we can put the pressure on, make the calls, sign the recall, who is ready to go to the streets?
Meanwhile first thing on Monday morning call
Leonard @ 503 823-4682 and Adams @ 503 823-4120 and then the others, Saltzman @503 823-4151, Fritz @ 503 823-3008 and Fish @503 823-3589 . .

because Wednesday Leonard has on Council Agenda again, another emergency ordinance to move forward with $$ for design on Kelly Butte Reservoir. He did the same emergency on Powell Butte storage tank last spring, "just in case we don't get an exemption for the LT2 rule" That cost us over $135 million!! There is no need for an emergency except Leonard wants to bit by bit take down our Bull Run Water System and Reservoirs that have served us so well for 100 years. Sen. Merkley is working on this for us, however, Leonard and bureau are in an emergency to move forward instead. Call Senator Merkley at 503 326-3386 and DC 1- 202-224-3753. Ask him to please help us to obtain a Waiver to the EPA LT2 Regulation allowing us to keep our water "The Public Treasure" that our visionary forefathers passed on to us and the generations to come.

WaterObserver, the public needs to hear over and over what you just wrote today:
The Water Bureau wants to appear to be fighting something that they're supporting behind the scenes....this makes for "mixed messages" at best. They hire the main consultant who wants the business to work on crafting the rule. They put anyone in charge of whatever activity, the same ones who will also get the contracts (i.e. the regionalization, the variance sampling, Bull Run Treatment Panel), then claim that they are trying so hard.


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