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Following months of public discussion, Portland City Council approves design contract, next phase in building water filtration facility

Following more than two months of public discussion, the Portland City Council last week approved the next phase of the Bull Run Filtration Projects, including a $51 million contract with regional partner Stantec Consulting for designing the new filtration facility. Stantec has completed similar projects in Tacoma, Wash., and Grants Pass, Ore.

As part of last week’s decisions, Council also approved a resolution that provided a set of priority values and expectations that will guide the project and commits the Water Bureau to providing annual updates to Council and semi-annual updates to the Portland Utility Board. It is estimated that the treatment option that would meet the Council’s priority values will have an estimated cost of $820 million.

When complete, this filtration facility will remove the microorganism Cryptosporidium and provide other benefits to the Bull Run water supply, producing clean and safe water for the nearly one million people who depend on it now and for future generations.

After a series of small-scale Cryptosporidium detections started in 2017, treating Portland’s drinking water is required by the federal Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule. Per a bilateral compliance agreement with the Oregon Health Authority, treatment needs to start by Sept. 30, 2027.

In addition to removing Cryptosporidium, filtration provides many other significant benefits. It provides the best protection from pathogens, reduces disinfection byproducts, reduces the impact of high turbidity events from fire or storms, helps address algae concerns, keeps sediment out of the distribution system, and better prepares the Portland region for addressing future regulations and emerging contaminants.

“These benefits were the reasons for proposing filtration as a treatment option in 2017 and they are still valid today,” said Water Bureau Director Mike Stuhr.

Earlier this summer, the Water Bureau installed a pilot water treatment plant to learn more about how to most effectively treat the Portland region’s unique water. The data from this pilot project will help inform design of the facility and allow us to obtain the necessary details before the full filtration facility is built and operating. Results from the pilot program will be submitted to regulators in fall of 2020 and include a full year of evaluations to allow for different seasons and water conditions, including elevated turbidity.

Throughout the process, decisions related to the Bull Run Treatment Program and filtration projects are guided by community values and feedback. 

“Portlanders love their water and this genuine pride in our amazing resource has prompted us to increase our public outreach and engagement,” said Stuhr. “We are informing this important work through increased transparency and listening. Every day, we hear that Portlanders value the peace-of-mind from a resilient infrastructure system. As part of this, we’re proud to invest in our water infrastructure so that we see benefits now and for future generations.” 

Community engagement for the eight-year filtration project has already begun—with many more opportunities in the coming years.

For example, the Bull Run Filtration Site Advisory Group meets monthly to talk through details and options for the project. The group will inform the facility design, construction, and ongoing operation of the project by offering independent community perspectives. Group members include property owners near the future filtration facility site in rural Multnomah County, farm operators, local school representatives, the environmental organizations, and others.

The development of new cost estimates was a result of two years of planning and analysis

The release of a new cost estimate drew the most attention to this round of public discussions. The initial $500 million estimate was calculated within a 60-day deadline, prior to site selection. After two years of planning and engineering analysis, the bureau was able to develop a more accurate project estimate (though still “low confidence level” as defined by the City Council’s Project Estimate Confidence Level Rating Index due to the project scope definition being at the conceptual stage). The $820 million presented in November reflects a variety of site-specific cost variables and a balance of costs with benefits. Project cost estimates will continue to improve as the project works through design and construction costs are determined.

As part of the planning and design work of this project, the Portland Water Bureau is committed to minimizing rate impacts and will continue to seek solutions. The bureau has been invited to apply for a low-interest loan from the Environmental Protection Agency, through the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (WIFIA). In addition, the bureau has enhanced its financial assistance program and other projects may be delayed to smooth rate impacts. The bureau will continue to find efficiencies in planning and design, such as decreasing the capacity from 160 millions of gallons per day (MGD) to 145 MGD, for additional cost savings.

The Water Bureau has been investing in seismic improvements to meet the goals of the Oregon Resilience Plan. The Bull Run Treatment projects are another seismic resilience project, with a facility built to modern seismic code and replacing some vulnerable pipe segments to lessen the consequences of a serious earthquake on our drinking water system.

For project news, click here. To sign up for updates, click here.