Sunday, July 26, 2009

Letter to Commissioners - Why we oppose a Filtration plant

July 26, 2009
Sent via email

Dear Commissioners-

The Mt. Tabor Land Use Committee strongly urges a postponement on this week’s LT2 Resolution vote.

The Mt. Tabor Land Use Committee strongly objects to the latest LT2 Resolution (#1071 – Leonard’s Treatment Technology Resolution) and its declaration that it will no longer pursue legislative relief.

Legislation is always difficult, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. Legislation is also unpredictable. Years ago we were told legislative relief was impossible because the Republicans were in power, and that this is an environmental issue and Republicans don’t care about environmental issues. Now we’re being told legislative relief is impossible because the Democrats are in power, and that this is a Consumer protection issue and that the Democrats fear Republicans will exploit our legislation on behalf of polluters. Clearly, every argument is about the framing. The outcome can’t be seen so clearly this early in the process. If we carefully get in front of the framing on this we have as much chance at success as anything else ever does. The stellar results Portland received in the year-long, high-volume study we just completed will further bolster the case (American Water Works Research Foundation, completed May 2009, results = 0 harmful Crypto anywhere in our water system). Our Bull Run system has science on its side, and we should not back away from doing what is right.

The people of Portland own Bull Run water and we want Water Bureau given the clear directive to pursue legislative relief. On April 11 (which was Easter and Passover weekend) 175 citizens turned out to passionately communicate to the City Council and our Federal Legislative Delegations that the people of Portland want to protect our pure, Bull Run water from LT2 build projects. The Resolution before you this week is a betrayal of the citizenry, and it marginalizes every effort we’ve made to communicate our wishes to you. ...

The Mt. Tabor Land Use Committee respectfully requests longer, more responsible budget projections regarding the Filtration plant. We cannot find where the Water Bureau has provided the City Council or the citizenry a budget that clearly draws for us the entire picture, marking the date their Filtration plant will be completely paid for, while spelling out exactly what each year’s rate increases will look like from here to there. We cannot settle for 5 years worth of projections when it appears this project won’t be paid for in 5 years. At this point the citizens have no idea what the payoff date is on this plant, or what we will be asked to bear. We respectfully assert that pursuing this information is an integral part of your fiduciary responsibilities. A Filtration plant threatens to break the backs of ratepayers while offering them permanently degraded water. We cannot close our eyes, and hope for the best. As a Councilor, you are in a tight spot today choosing between satisfying your obligation to meet Federal Rules and satisfying your obligation to protect the citizens that hired you - that is a lousy set of options. But you must press on and get more creative until you find a good option for the People of Portland.

The Bull Run Treatment Panel Report seems outmoded. Water Bureau is at least in part basing its Filtration recommendation on the work done by this panel which met more than seven years ago in a very different political climate. That Panel worked from a number of assumptions that have proven themselves inaccurate, including an assumption that demand in Portland would steadily rise over time. In addition, this Panel’s discussions occurred under Bureau Administration that was actively pursuing regionalization of our water system and our water rights through the creation of the Bull Run Regionalized Drinking Water Agency - a concept the people of Portland have since flatly refused. A two-year delay from the EPA would allow Water Bureau the time to convene a panel working from a base of updated assumptions, so that the people of Portland get a modern decision based on their modern needs and desires.

The Mt. Tabor Land Use Committee respectfully cautions against Filtration’s unintended consequences = a “blend center” and the possible loss of citizen ownership in our water resources. Some of the things that were said at the June 23 Council work session set off speculation that a Filtration plant paves the way to the demand-blend-center concept found in older Water Bureau planning documents – as discussed in these documents, a blend-center would allow water from the Willamette and Columbia Rivers to be mixed and blended with our Bull Run water. This proves to be a big negative in the eyes of those of us who love our drinking water (including the Brewers of Portland). On this point, a Filtration plant seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy - we don’t need a Filtration plant today but once we build it, we will. If a Filtration plant will allow the Water Bureau to source lower quality water, a Filtration plant will most certainly serve us up lower quality water than what we drink today.

At the June 23rd meeting, Greg DiLoreto from Tualatin Valley Water District reportedly alluded to the TVWD becoming an owner in Bull Run water -- this seems to be an escalation of TVWD’s current relationship with Bull Run water rights and it harkens back to a time when the City was considering forming the Bull Run Regional Drinking Water Agency. The “Regional Storage and Transmission Report” (a WB planning doc from 2000) reflects research and an outline of a process by which a particular Intergovernmental Agreement (without citizen input) would seemingly allow Portland to divide and transfer ownership in our Bull Run water to other government agencies. Given that dividing ownership also divides debt, there is much speculation that this particular Intergovernmental Agreement option is being resurrected as an option to help fund the massive expenditures posed by Filtration (yet another reason we urge you to seek clear, long -term cash flow data regarding a Filtration project). Once other agencies/water districts/wholesale customers own a share in the water system, how much control do we have over what they do with it? If we are dependent on other municipalities paying for a share of this burden, what happens if/when one of them falters? Have we seen any case history about public agencies regionalizing and the incidences of subsequent privatization? Dividing ownership out from underneath the citizens of Portland seems like a slippery slope to divesting the people of public ownership of our most valuable resource and it is quite possibly one of the steps that can lead to privatization. In several letters to citizens this week, Leonard asserts privatization of our water system won’t happen on his watch, but he won’t be around forever.

We the People of Portland are the lucky ones. We don’t drink pharmaceuticals like Prozac or ibuprofen. We don’t drink Teflon. We don’t drink hairspray, or toilet bowl cleaners, or any of the surprising myriad of chemicals which are found in trace amounts in EPA approved “clean” tap water all across America because we don’t drink recycled sewage. We also don’t drink fertilizers, or insecticides, or the crypto that comes from tea brewed with cow poop, because we don’t drink unprotected water run-off from urban and farm areas. Once we mix Willamette or Columbia River water with our drinking water, we too will drink the fertilizers my neighbor dumps on his lawn, and the pharmaceuticals he dumps in his body, and a whole host of other “trace” chemicals the 21st century adds to surface and sewer water but doesn’t filter out before drinking it, again. There they will be, mixed and blended with our pristine, organic-quality Bull Run water, thereby permanently adulterating its purity with Teflon and acetaminophen. The Water Bureau wants to raise our rates AND reduce the quality of product delivered to our taps.

Some people are concerned that a Filtration plant is necessary to securely meet water demands in our area… the assumption many folks are making is that Water Bureau MUST have a good reason for wanting Filtration, and maybe it has something to do with supply/demand. The data seems to assert that a new Filtration plant is NOT essential to meeting demand. Interestingly, demand in Portland actually has historically decreased every year, despite our population increases.

The Water Bureau has asserted the demand/supply argument regarding periods of high turbidity, like in the fall when the rains are particularly hard and fast. In the last 10 years, I can find 8 turbidity incidents that have compelled us to switch away from our Bull Run water. At those moments, we move to our well fields, developed as a secondary water supply suitable for cases of over demand, or emergency shutdowns. Last year we switched off Bull Run for a total of 8 days in November because of turbidity. And our well field did its job. The Water Bureau has recently asserted that we need the Filtration plant in case of a catastrophic fire in the Bull Run Watershed. After all, if the forest is leveled, the water there would be overwhelmed with debris. The Water Bureau suggests that a Filtration plant would allow us to keep pumping Bull Run water even in case of a fire. But the data from other municipalities around the country seems to contradict this assertion. Take the Denver watershed that suffered a catastrophic fire a few years ago. They have a Filtration plant, and still they had to shut down their water supply because the amount of debris overwhelmed the Filtration system. Unlike Denver, we have a totally separate backup system already in place. In the case of catastrophe, we will have a catastrophe and it isn’t likely that a Filtration plant will buy us any extra water.

Please do not accept this Resolution; it cannot be the best option.

S. Stewart
Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association Land Use Chair