Monday, April 25, 2011

Our Response to Water Bureau OPed in Oregonian today

There are a number of options available to the City of Portland which would provide relief from these mandates, none of which involve breaking the law.

Mr. Shaff's assertion that our choices are two--build these projects as the Water Bureau proposes or break the law--is totally specious and intended to prevent ratepayers and the City Council from understanding the true number of options at hand.

Specifically, the City Council has four options:

1. Seek a permanent waiver from these Cryptosporidium mandates, which could either be granted by Congress or the EPA itself through executive action.

2. Pursue a variance from the rule, using the 17,000 liters of testing in Bull Run and at our open drinking water reservoirs as proof that we already meet the objectives of the Cryptosporidium rule.

It is important to note that federal regulators are no longer the decision-makers on a variance from the rule, the State of Oregon has been delegated primacy for rule implementation and therefore the state will decide whether Portland is eligible for a variance. This is a critical development, as we expect the state to be much more sympathetic to Portland's unique situation than the EPA.

3. Pursue treatment at the outlet of the reservoirs as Rochester, New York has done. While Mr. Shaff is correct that this would cost much more in Portland than it did in Rochester (approximately $200 million), that is still far less than the Water Bureau is proposing to spend--$500 million. Has the Water Bureau allowed the City Council the opportunity to consider or debate an alternative compliance program that could save ratepayers $300 million? And if not, why not?

4. Seek a delayed compliance timeline as Dr. Thomas Ward, an infectious disease specialist at OHSU, has recommended the City pursue. Again, the decision on a delayed compliance time frame is not up to the EPA, it is up to the State of Oregon.

Mr. Shaff asserts that Portland must have a legal or technical basis for requesting a delay for reservoir replacement. Says who? Where is that written? He refers to Congress' original direction to the EPA in authorizing promulgation of this rule, but that has nothing to do with implementation of the rule, especially when authority for that implementation has been turned over to the State of Oregon. The Water Bureau is counting on ratepayers and the City Council to take their word for it. Don't.

Portland can seek a delay for any reason. The worst that would happen is the state refuses. We will never know unless we ask. The City Council must request a delay so as to pursue other options (listed above) and prevent a half-billion dollar waste of money at a time when Portland residents and businesses are struggling.

Kent Craford
Portland Water Users Coalition

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Bull Run Watershed