Second biggest Portland water user is -- huh?
Yesterday we tantalized readers with this question: Who's the second largest consumer of water purchased from the Portland Water Bureau? None of our usually well informed readers knew the correct answer.
And we can't say that we blame them for not knowing, because it's a company that they probably have never heard of. Certainly we hadn't until some alert readers showed it to us.
According to this document, which was produced at City Hall, it's an outfit called Carollo Engineers. In the year ended June 30, 2010, that firm purchased 291.5 million gallons of water, more than 60 million gallons more than the parks bureau and more than 125 million more than the public schools. Carollo is second in consumed volume only to Siltronic Corp., the silicon chip maker, which purchased 549.2 million gallons that year.
So who in the heck is Carollo Engineers, and what are they doing with all that water?
As best we can tell, Carollo is a private company that designs, tests, and oversees construction of ultraviolet treatment equipment that other private companies, such as Berson, Calgon and Wedeco, build and sell to municipal water systems that need UV treatment. Carollo has built a central testing facility out at the city's Columbia well fields (out beyond Costco on Airport Way), and it runs all those hundreds of millions of gallons of Portland water through the facility in order to test the effectiveness of the manufacturers' equipment before it is shipped off to the water system customers around the country, and even overseas. As Carollo explains on its website:
To receive inactivation credit with UV disinfection, the USEPA will require that UV systems undergo performance validation testing. Until recently, UV systems installed in the U.S. were validated either on site or at a facility in Europe. Recognizing a need for a U.S. facility, Carollo independently initiated its own survey to find a location to develop a validation facility. We identified the City of Portland’s South Shore Well Field as an ideal location for such an activity. It can provide 90 mgd of chlorine-free, low UV-absorbance groundwater at a constant flowrate and has a NPDES permit that allows us to discharge the test water to the Columbia River. We struck an agreement with Portland to develop a test center adjacent to their 2-mgd reservoir tank.
Carollo obtained funding for development of the facility from two UV system suppliers: Calgon Carbon Corporation and WEDECO Ideal Horizons. We designed the facility in November 2002, and construction started in February 2003. Carollo is responsible for managing the facility and conducting all testing. This includes coordinating site use between the two participating UV vendors, logistics, test protocol development, testing, data analysis, and reporting. Carollo commissioned the site in March 2003 with the testing of a 40-mgd, medium-pressure UV system supplied by Calgon. Since then, Carollo has tested six different large-scale UV reactors at flowrates ranging from 1 to 42 mgd at UV transmittance values ranging from 70 to 98 percent. This testing comprises over 320 challenge tests using MS2 coliphage to demonstrate UV doses ranging from 20 to 80 mJ/cm2.
When they're through testing the water, they dump it into the Columbia Slough, apparently under a permit that the city had previously obtained from the state DEQ to allow discharges.
It's amazing to us that we've never heard of this deal, which has been in place for nearly a decade. And as we consider it now for the first time, a number of questions pop right up:
First of all, Carollo is getting a darn good price. It's no. 2 in usage, but it's no. 17 in what it paid the city for water. For its 291 million gallons, it paid the city just $0.000643 a gallon. Compare that with what the school district was charged for its 165 million gallons: $.003688 a gallon. The schools got charged more than five times as much per gallon as Carollo. The parks bureau paid about the same as the schools -- $0.003428. Siltronic, the city's top non-wholesale customer, paid $.003227 a gallon -- again, five times what Carollo paid.
What is up with that?
Another question that springs to mind is the effect of all this pumping on groundwater quality in the well field. As we remember it, there's a fair amount of pollution in the ground not far from there. Once upon a time there were some ugly industrial processes going on out that way -- we seem to recall the name Boeing being mentioned in this connection -- and as we have understood it all these years, the more pumping out of the wells, the more likely it is that the pollution is going to reach those wells.
Now, it's been our impression that the wells are used only sparingly. Indeed, every August the water bureau makes a big deal out of announcing that they're blending well water in with Bull Run. The illusion has been that the well field mostly sits untouched. Well, no way -- Carollo's grabbing close to 300 million gallons out of there a year.
And what is going out the other end of Carollo's pipe, into the Columbia Slough? Do the ultraviolet bulbs ever break, sending mercury into the water? The testing apparently involves injecting microbes into the water -- what happens when the ultraviolet systems don't completely kill them? Let's hope some enterprising environmental sorts take a hard look at that discharge system.
The larger question that this quiet little deal raises is how sincere the city really is in opposing the budget-busting treatment systems that federal regulators have been pushing for several years now. If the water bureau's been entering into major contracts with the ultraviolet treatment folks behind the curtains (Is there a land lease from the city to the company?), one has to wonder what other kinds of transactions have already been entered into with those firms that the public knows nothing about.
The city's refusal to keep fighting the unfunded federal mandates of ultraviolet treatment and underground reservoirs has always seemed quite curious. And now we see that the city has made a sweet backroom deal with the treatment people, seemingly without any public involvement or awareness. It's unseemly, to say the least -- there's sort of a faint Ellis McCoy aura about the whole thing.
Anyway, there's more here to consider. But just the fact that this facility exists, and at this scale, is (if you'll pardon the expression) enough to absorb for one day.