GENERAL INFORMATION: 503-823-7404
1120 SW Fifth Ave, Suite 600, Portland, OR 97204
At the Portland Water Bureau the Dispatch team at our Interstate Facility responds to nearly 200 phone calls per day.
About half of the calls are from the public. Customers call to report leaks, water main breaks, and problems with fire hydrants. The dispatcher discusses the issue with the customer and attempts to locate the problem. Once the problem has been located a Water Bureau employee responds to the location to determine the severity of the problem and what steps to take. A service request is then issued and the repair scheduled.
Water Bureau field crews call Dispatch if they need assistance locating meters or construction sites. The Dispatch office is equipped with a variety of computers and monitors that allow the service dispatcher to locate everything from hydrants, meters, general construction sites, and even the location of employees.
The Dispatch team is an integral part of ensuring our ability to deliver water to our customers!
For the past 100 years, the developed world has enjoyed a cheap, safe, and abundant water supply, but Charles Fishman (The Wal-Mart Effect) warns that everything about water is about to change—how we use it, how we share it, and how we value it.
In an engrossing, globe-trotting narrative, he introduces the reader to people already grappling with water shortages—Patricia Mulroy, Las Vegas's no-nonsense water czar known as the best water manager in the country; the inhabitants of a neighborhood in Delhi who line up twice a day for water they must carry home. Since water cannot be created or destroyed, the challenge we face is not so much about water scarcity but rather how we can use it more equitably and protect it—the meaning of "clean" has a wholly new connotation in an era when we can pollute water in new ways with residues of medicine and plastics. Fishman notes that some of the most innovative ways of conserving water are coming from big businesses, including IBM, which has cut the water use in its microchip production 27% in the past eight years. A comprehensive, remarkably readable panorama of our dependence on—and responsibilities to—a priceless resource.
On the antiquated municipal water systems in the United States
"The average U.S. home pays an average of $34 a month. So our always-on, unlimited, almost universally reliably safe water costs us about $1 a day. Our water bill is less than half what our cable TV bill or our cell phone bill is. So cities are starved for financial resources and water utilities are often in terrible shape. In Philadelphia, there are 3,300 miles of water mains in the city, and they replace 20 miles a year. They're on 160-year replacement cycles. One of the officials from the Philadelphia water utility said to me, 'We want to make sure we get the 20 miles right.' That's not a question of money, it's a question of public resistance to digging up streets."
On taking the water system for granted
"One of the big problems of water is that the success of the golden age of water has created an invisible system. We don't even take [water] for granted because taking it for granted would suggest we pay attention to it. That hidden system is corroding, and as it corrodes, it even corrodes our support for public water. We think, 'Why should I pay more for water? I'll just go buy bottled water.' But, in fact, we don't actually spend that much money supporting the system. In the U.S., we spend $21 billion a year buying bottled water, and we spend $29 billion a year maintaining the entire water system — pipes, treatment plants, pumps. We spend almost as much on crushable plastic bottles of water as we do maintaining the water system."
In an effort to help Water Bureau customers better understand the complex issues surrounding the federal government’s directive that Portland end the use of the open reservoirs that serve finished drinking water, the Water Bureau has developed the attached document, "Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Portland’s Open Reservoirs."
The Water Bureau is providing this information now as it continues to make progress building a new underground water tank on Powell Butte and proceeds with plans to disconnect the existing open reservoirs on Mt. Tabor and cover Reservoir 3 in Washington Park.
A few groups and individuals have repeatedly made incorrect and misleading statements about water quality with regards to these projects. Motivated by an understandable desire to keep the beautiful and historic reservoirs in use, they have unfortunately made deceptive and irresponsible allegations that the new water storage facility at Powell Butte "…will introduce unsafe, potentially cancer causing chemicals into the water." These statements are false, and are designed to scare and mislead the public. The fact is that nearly every drop of Portland's water is already safely stored in covered reservoirs as it moves through the system, and this has been the case for nearly 30 years. Portland's water is recognized as some of the purest, highest quality drinking water in the country.
The advocates claim that the City has not done enough to avoid the costs of compliance, a charge which could not be further from the truth. The Portland Water Bureau has led a 7-year fight against "LT2," a federal mandate to treat source water for Cryptosporidium and end the use of open reservoirs, and that fight continues, as it plans to appeal to the Oregon Health Authority for a variance to recognize testing that demonstrates that Portland does not need to construct an expensive additional treatment facility.
Some well intentioned members of our community are suggesting that the City delay its federally approved 12-year compliance plan for the mandate to end the use of open reservoirs due to the costs of these projects. Unfortunately, the City does not have a technical basis to achieve such a delay, as Congress specifically prohibited regulators from considering cost in their implementation of the LT2 rule. Other than openly defying the authority of the state and federal government at great expense to ratepayers in the form of fines, there is little more the City Council can do to avoid the requirements to stop using the open reservoirs. All new reservoirs are now required by law to be closed.
The Water Bureau is committed to providing its customers with safe drinking water for generations to come, as it has done since 1895.
David G. Shaff, Administrator
Portland Water Bureau
1) Why is Portland required to discontinue using the open reservoirs at Mt. Tabor and Washington Park?
In 2006 the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule, known as LT2 for short. The rule requires that water utilities discontinue the use of open finished water reservoirs or treat the water as it exits the reservoir for Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and viruses.
2) Can’t Portland fight the rule?
Portland has been fighting this rule for 7 years, pursuing legal, administrative, and legislative remedies. Portland filed a legal challenge to the rule in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Court) along with briefs filed by New York City, Oregon Wild, the Oregon Chapter of the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Walla Walla, WA. In its records review challenge, Portland requested that the requirements of LT2 for water systems to cover or treat open reservoirs and for unfiltered water systems to provide treatment to address Cryptosporidium be invalidated (vacated) by the Court.
The Court heard oral arguments in the case on September 25th, 2007. On November 6th, 2007 the Court issued its decision rejecting Portland’s challenge in which Judge Tatel concluded “Portland’s and New York’s attacks on this rule-making are all either inaccurate, irrelevant, or both.”
Since then, we have engaged Portland’s Congressional delegation extensively in pursuit of a potential legislative remedy for Portland. Our representatives have reported that there is no support in Congress for legislative relief for Portland.
Currently we are in the late stages of completing our application for a variance from the treatment component of the rule, which if approved by the State of Oregon, will save ratepayers more than $100 million.
3) Why isn’t Portland pursuing a variance to avoid covering the reservoirs?
The LT2 rule only has a variance provision for the treatment portion of the rule, which impacts the Bull Run water supply. Portland is vigorously pursuing this option to avoid additional treatment of Bull Run water.
The EPA has confirmed to Portland that no option exists in the rule for an open reservoir variance.
Portland sought legal advice from the same firm that represented the City in the legal challenge, and it affirmed that EPA’s interpretation of the rule has legal precedence and would most likely be upheld by the courts.
4) Why can’t we just ignore the rule?
Ignoring the rule would put Portland in violation of federal law, which would result in large fines from the state and federal government. In that event, not only would Portland's ratepayers ultimately be forced to comply with the rule, but they would be required to also bear the costs of expensive and unnecessary fines. This would also potentially impact Portland's bond rating, which would raise borrowing costs, and thus impact rates even more.
5) What about getting the "waiver" people are talking about?
There is no such thing as a "waiver." When advocates speak of getting a "waiver", they are talking about legislative action by the Congress to amend the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and exempt Portland from the rule which would then have to be signed by the President in order to become law.
Commissioner Leonard did ask our Congressional representatives about the likelihood of obtaining legislative action on behalf of Portland and was told there was no support in Congress for such an amendment.
6) Does covered storage increase risks of gas buildup in the reservoirs?
No. All reservoirs, covered or uncovered, have an air gap above the water surface that is vented into the atmosphere.
For nearly 30 years, almost every customer of the Portland Water Bureau has consumed drinking water that has been stored in a covered reservoir or tank, and the water quality consistently meets or exceeds that of the open reservoirs.
Closed reservoirs, because they continue to have air exchange above the water surface, allow venting to occur. Screened vents in closed reservoirs are sized to ensure adequate air flow through the reservoir to prevent pressurization and also prevent "off-gas" buildup. Air quality has not been a problem at any of the Water Bureau’s many closed reservoirs and tanks. The Water Bureau inspects and maintains vents and reservoir access points are on a regular basis to prevent intrusions from animals, birds or humans. Additionally, the State Drinking Water Program performs inspections at these sites every three years.
7) Is radon an issue in Portland drinking water that will be affected by eliminating open drinking water storage?
No. Radon is not detectable in Portland’s main supply, the Bull Run watershed, which contributes on average over 97% of the total water supply.
Radon gas naturally occurs in the Western United States from underground rock formations. Portland has detectable amounts of radon it its water system from the Columbia South Shore Well Field which is used for emergency backup and to augment the Bull Run source to provide summer supply and constitutes an average of approximately 3% of the total water supply. However, these amounts do not cause the drinking water to exceed the proposed rule for radon.
8) What is nitrification, and are closed reservoirs a risk in Portland’s system?
Nitrification is a biochemical process that in excess can interfere with the disinfection process in drinking water systems. The conditions within Portland’s open finished drinking water reservoirs are more conducive to causing nitrification than the conditions within closed reservoirs.
In Portland’s drinking water system, the first step of the nitrification process-- decomposition of chloramine disinfectant-- is accelerated by loss of chlorine residual as drinking water passes through the open reservoirs. Exposure of chloraminated water over a large surface area to wind and sunlight and airborne pollutants such as pollen, dust and animal waste has a significant role in this decomposition of the chloramines.
Closed water storage facilities (i.e. tanks or covered reservoirs) do typically have the type of bacteria which are capable of feeding on ammonia and contributing to nitrification. However, without significant availability of ammonia from chloramine decomposition, or high temperatures, it is difficult for such bacteria to multiply and interfere with disinfection.
9) What role does sunlight play in disinfection of drinking water in open reservoirs?
Exposure to sunlight raises water temperatures and encourages the growth of algae and bacteria, which has been a recurring problem at our open reservoirs. Sunlight can also contribute to an increase in disinfection byproducts, loss of chlorine, reduction of pH (which can cause corrosion in home plumbing), increased total coliform production, and taste and odor issues. Additionally, elevated water temperatures in the open reservoirs increases nitrification and growth of total coliforms.
In highly controlled settings, processes similar to sunlight are used to provide water treatment; however, natural sunlight is not strong enough to provide demonstrable improvement in water quality. The exposure to sunlight actually has a greater number of negatives than positives. Sunlight is not a controllable treatment method, and cannot not be relied upon to adequately disinfect drinking water.
10) Why have waterborne disease outbreaks been associated with closed drinking water reservoirs?
Portland has never had a disease outbreak caused by its closed storage reservoirs.
Closed reservoirs that have had waterborne outbreaks have been in systems that experienced operational or mechanical failures and which have typically been infiltrated by animals.
Open reservoirs, on the other hand, with their large water surface areas are much more vulnerable to animals entering, swimming, defecating, or dying in them. It is fairly common for Portland Water Bureau maintenance workers to find dead animals, excrement and other contaminants in the open reservoirs – this water goes directly to the customers’ tap without further treatment.
Many of the documented outbreaks associated with closed reservoirs have been tracked to animals that have made their way into closed reservoirs. Animals are able to enter a closed reservoir through a broken or missing screen on its vent or overflow. Due to the screening of vents and overflow piping, evidence of animal access has never been discovered in our closed storage tanks. In Oregon, the State Drinking Water Program reviews the function of vent screens and overflows. The Water Bureau inspects and maintains vent screens and access points to its closed reservoirs and tanks on a monthly basis.
11) What about rubberized asphalt coatings leaching into the water on a new reservoir?
The new reservoirs planned at Powell Butte and Kelly Butte will be built of reinforced concrete. No rubberized asphalt coatings will be placed inside the reservoirs next to the drinking water. However, it is standard practice to apply waterproofing to the exterior of concrete structures of this type.
12) Wouldn’t it be cheaper to maintain the open reservoirs than build covered storage?
The open reservoirs range from 100 to 117 years old. While they may look fine when full, they are in poor condition. The concrete is deteriorated, with cracks and chunks missing, the lining panels have eroded, and the steel pipes and valves are corroding.
In the last 10 years $40 million dollars have been spent on reservoir maintenance, and the costs continue to climb. Perhaps most importantly, the reservoirs and pipes are not structurally sound enough to withstand an earthquake, and would be unusable for water storage at a time when they would be most needed. It has been estimated that the reservoirs would need over $125 million dollars in improvements to seismically reinforce them. This would still not meet the EPA’s regulatory requirement to cover them or treat the water exiting them.
13) What was the AwwaRF Project 3021 sampling at Portland’s open reservoirs and how does it relate to the requirements of the LT2 rule or a Variance for Open Reservoirs?
In 2008 and 2009 the Portland Water Bureau participated in the Water Research Foundation (WaterRF) Project 3021, Detection of Infectious Cryptosporidium in Water. The purpose of the WaterRF project was to “examine conventionally filtered surface water for the presence of infectious Cryptosporidium using both cell culture techniques and molecular methods,” and “attempt to repeat a recent study that reported a risk of infectious Cryptosporidium in filtered drinking water so that a scientifically sound consensus may be reached.”
The Water Bureau's sample volumes ranged from 83.5 liters to 305.6 liters, for a total volume of about 7,000 liters during the study. Eighteen samples were collected approximately twice per month from June 2008 to April 2009. The results of the study were that no infectious Cryptosporidium oocysts were detected in any of the Water Bureau’s samples. Additionally, no infectious oocysts were detected for any utility participating in this study.
EPA has indicated that variances are not available for the open reservoir requirements of LT2. Even if a variance to the open reservoir requirements of LT2 were available, the WaterRF study would not be adequate to achieve a variance.
The WaterRF study does not document the absence of Cryptosporidium and other public health risks in the open reservoirs. It simply shows that no infectious oocysts were detected in any of Portland's samples collected on 18 occasions. Given the literature that addresses the potential for direct microbial and chemical contamination and other forms of water quality degradation associated with open finished water reservoirs, the data from the WaterRF study would not be considered convincing evidence for EPA, public health officials, or the scientific community in general.
Furthermore, the WaterRF study would not suffice as an adequate variance application (if one were available) for the following reasons:
14) Wouldn’t it be cheaper to delay construction into the future?
Construction costs have been very low the last two years. Construction related inflation is anticipated to accelerate at faster rates than general consumer inflation, particularly with increasing fuel costs. Contractor bids can be expected to rise as we grow out of this recession and bond costs are expected to climb from historically low rates. Taken together, now is the right time to complete capital projects. Not only will it be less costly, but it will add jobs to the regional economy.
Further, delaying these projects into the future beyond what we have been authorized by the EPA would put the Portland Water Bureau in violation of federal law, and subject ratepayers to the costs of steep fines, and jeopardize the bureau’s bond rating making capital projects more expensive.
15) How much is it going to cost?
The current average residential water bill is $25 per month. This cost will rise by about $21 per month (or less than a dollar a day) over the next 5 years.
The City of Portland offers the Sewer & Water Bill Discount Program to eligible seniors and others on limited incomes to provide monthly discounts.
The bureau is also planning to convert its quarterly billing practice to monthly billing by July 2012, which will help ratepayers incorporate their water and sewer costs into their monthly budgets.
16) What is New York City doing regarding compliance with the open reservoir requirements of the LT2 Rule?
New York City has one large uncovered finished drinking water reservoir called Hillview which the State of New York directed the City to cover by 2016 through an administrative order. Earlier this year New York City formally requested a deferral of the deadline requirement for it to cover Hillview which would extend the compliance deadline to 2026 if it is granted. New York City is not requesting a variance to the open reservoir requirements of the LT2 rule.
New York City is conducting several capital improvement projects on its drinking water system which make the large Hillview covering project difficult to do simultaneously. The rationale of New York City’s deferral request is that sequencing these projects so that the reservoir covering comes last will be most protective of water quality and public health.
17) Why can’t we do what Rochester, NY is doing?
Rochester serves a population about the 1/4 the size that we do. Rochester also has a filtration plant upstream of their open reservoirs and uses free chlorine to disinfect. Rochester has proposed to install UV reactors inside its existing gatehouses to treat for Cryptosporidium and Giardia, and then it believes it can achieve chlorine contact time for virus inactivation downstream inside its pipes before serving customers. The system has not been designed yet so Rochester staff does not know for certain if this approach will work.
Portland has a different system. Portland uses chloramines to maintain disinfection. Portland would be required to treat for Cryptosporidium, Giardia and viruses at the reservoir outlets, which requires a much higher UV dose, and much larger equipment that could not fit into the existing gatehouses. The most likely configuration would be to install one UV facility downstream and below the outlets of the open reservoirs (one at Mt. Tabor and one at Washington Park). This would require pumping back up into the distribution system, which would eliminate the sustainable and elegant gravity feed system and add more long term operational costs. Each UV treatment facility would inhabit a footprint of approximately 3-5 acres. In addition, there would still be significant maintenance costs for the reservoirs, which are rated in poor condition. Treatment at the outlets would be more expensive than new covered storage, and was an option considered and rejected by the 2004 Independent Review Panel because of cost.
18) What did the rate payer oversight committee, Portland Utility Review Board (PURB) recommend to Council about the reservoirs?
The PURB recommended that Portland comply with the reservoir portion of the rule, and requested that the City Council adopt a formal resolution directing the Water Bureau to replace the existing in-town open reservoirs with secure enclosed storage on a schedule to comply with the EPA approved plan.
The PURB stated that “the reservoirs are old and decaying, in need of replacement independent of the LT2 rules, this is necessary system maintenance work.”
19) What does Multnomah County Health Department say about open reservoirs?
Multnomah County Health Department (MCHD) has recommended that all open reservoirs be removed from the water system. MCHD acts in an advisory capacity to the City of Portland on health matters.
Op-ed in "The Oregonian" newspaper April 25, 2011
As Kent Craford and Kelly Campbell suggest in their recent commentary, the Portland Water Bureau delivers some of the world's purest drinking water ("The Water Bureau needs to hit the pause button," April 20). We share their view that the Bull Run's natural filtration system is more than adequate, and we're pleased that a year's worth of recent tests for cryptosporidium demonstrated that the parasite is not a threat to our water supply. Although we share plenty of common ground on the quality of our water and the view that the federal government's requirement to treat our water for cryptosporidium and cover our reservoirs should not apply to Portland, we cannot simply decline to comply with a federal law, as Craford and Campbell suggest. To do so would be illegal and irresponsible and would result in even greater costs to ratepayers in the form of fines from the federal government.
The Water Bureau is the agency responsible for ensuring that the water it delivers to more than 800,000 people in the Portland metro area is safe and in compliance with federal and state drinking water standards. Negative test results for cryptosporidium do not give us the power or authority to exempt ourselves from federal law. Only the federal government has that authority, and for seven years we have pursued every avenue available to avoid the requirements of that law.
We're not pursuing an extended-compliance timeframe for resolving the open reservoir requirements of the law because it is not an option. I cannot be clearer on this point. Asking for more time is not an option for Portland, as we have no legal or technical basis on which to ask for an extension. When Congress directed the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a rule to deal with the threat of cryptosporidium, it expressly forbade the EPA from taking cost into consideration in mandating compliance.
But what about New York City, ask Craford and Campbell? New York City has one large uncovered drinking water reservoir, which the state of New York directed the city to cover by 2016 through an administrative order. Earlier this year, New York City formally requested a deferral of the deadline requirement for it to cover the reservoir, which would extend the compliance deadline to 2026, if it is granted. The city is requesting this extension because the nature of its system is such that covering the reservoir before completing other associated work in the system could potentially jeopardize public health. Portland, thankfully, does not have that problem. New York City's request has not been granted yet. To be clear, it is not requesting a variance to the open-reservoir requirements of federal law, and the time extension it is requesting is based on a threat to public health, not the cost of implementation.
Craford and Campbell also claim that because Rochester, New York's estimated cost of compliance is $25 million, Portland could find less expensive compliance strategies. Their analysis is misleading, first because Rochester serves only one-fourth as many people as Portland, and also because they choose to ignore vast differences between Portland's water system and Rochester's. Rochester's compliance strategy would be logistically very challenging to implement in Portland, and our costs would be considerably higher.
The passion that Portlanders feel for their water system is one of the great strengths of our city, and I appreciate the drive that Portlanders like Craford and Campbell have to protect one of our greatest assets. I share their passion to preserve our pristine water system. But I cannot responsibly agree with their suggestion that Portland defy federal law and subject ratepayers to severe fines on top of the already burdensome costs of compliance.
Portland Water Bureau