Portland water bureau played poker on Carollo deal
Last week, we wrote about a startling discovery -- a private company has been quietly operating a commercial water treatment testing facility on Portland water bureau property at the Columbia River well field for many years. The firm, Carollo Engineers, is the second largest consumer of Portland water -- nearly 300 million gallons one recent year-- and it pays a rate for the water far cheaper than any other customer, including the school district and the parks bureau. It also gets to piggyback on a city permit to dump treated water into the nearby Columbia Slough.
On its website, Carollo points out that the plant was operational in March 2003, and it was (and is) intended to provide a testing facility for ultraviolet water treatment equipment to be sold throughout the country, and in other parts of the world. Since then, the Carollo plant has apparently tested and validated more than 30 systems that then went for installation at water systems all over.
An alert reader has pointed us to an interesting document that indicates that the water bureau didn't disclose its arrangement with Carollo, and the existence of the facility, to the city's public utility rate board when board members inquired about UV testing in February 2004. Here's an exchange from the minutes of the rate board meeting of February 18, 2004 (read into the minutes of the March 18, 2004 meeting). "Loren" and "Scott" are Loren Lutzenhiser and Scott Fernandez, members of the board, and "Dennis" is Dennis Kessler, an official from the water bureau. They're talking about the city's tentative plans for UV treatment of its water supply, in response to federal mandates:
Scott: Two years ago UV was priced at $20 million as a cost to implement. We encouraged that direction because of the cost, not the technology. Then it soon went up to $55 million, then to $60 million, and now up to $102 million 2 years later. What do we project the price to be when the time comes if we go in that direction?
Dennis: There are still some things to be worked out on that technology. Part of this is costs due to storage that we didn’t prioritize. A big chunk is the storage issue. The other part is some type of a clear well depending on where you put it. If you put it at the headworks, you can utilize the head of the dams and you have the contact time for other types of disinfection from where it leaves the headworks until it gets into town. And you don’t have to pump. If you start moving this downstream, you will have to pump and it becomes more expensive – locating it and piping to and from the site. Plus backup power, what do you do with power outages?...
Unknown: In the slides you identified UV at Lusted Hill at $103 million but in this report it’s tagged at $20.5 million on page 11. How do you reconcile this?
Dennis: This is just the first 5 years of the project. Look at page 5, only seeing a small part of treatment, the big costs are out beyond 5 years.
Loren: What’s included for $20 million? Planning and design?
Dennis: It’s looking at configuration and effectiveness of the disinfection. It is different in every water system. Our water is pretty significantly different. At this stage there is no (UV) plant the size we are talking about in operation. It’s a fairly new technology at this size of application. So there’s figuring that all out. The first 3 years of this is looking at alternative concepts and probably the last 2 years is primarily design. And a lot of permitting too.
Loren: Are salaries a part of this or a combination of contracts?
Dennis: It’s primarily consulting....
Scott: Already have a UV test facility pilot in place?
Dennis: We have one on the groundwater system and we have been having trouble with it.
Scott: Is there a national facility somewhere?
Dennis: I’m not aware of that.
Scott: What has been the problem with it?
Dennis: The main problem is light bulb breakage. Then what do you do with the mercury in the water, and the glass and debris, and the down time? That is the big problem they are having. If something happens, you need a place to put the water to deal with it -- the by-product.
It is hard to believe that Kessler didn't know that the Portland Carollo plant, going for nearly a year at that point, was intended to be a national facility, with outside customers, and built to run for many years. And he certainly wasn't forthcoming about the Carollo connection when it certainly would have been appropriate to describe it.
Meanwhile, his remarks about the problems that were being encountered with UV treatment in Portland have got to make one wonder what was going out the pipe and into the slough from the Carollo plant at that time. Or is going out now, for that matter.