Monday, March 22, 2010

Cost without Cause

If you've read my PURB testimony from March 3, 2010, you've read this paper.

In 1973, citizens sued to protect the Bull Run watershed from logging. At the time, logging was being promoted by both the federal government and the Portland Water Bureau.*1 These citizens asserted that logging in the watershed was destructive to water quality. The judge on the case, Justice James M. Burns, rather pointedly identified one of the flaws in that 1973 debate surrounding our water system. He drew a distinction between statements of policy or purpose and statements of fact, noting that one should not be confused with the other. At that time, the federal government issued policy statements like, “logging will protect Bull Run from catastrophic fire,” but upon investigation the facts proved logging increased both the risk of and the damage caused by fire. The policy to log Bull Run as a means to control fire risk or damage in our watershed, was a policy based on an erroneous assumption about the relationship between logging and fire. Asserting that assumption unchecked, in a policy worded as a doctrine to protect, almost allowed a destructive practice to move forward under the guise of a policy meant to help.

Portland is again in a position where the federal government has asserted a statement of policy. And again, when Portlanders investigate the assumptions underlying these policy statements, the facts just don’t bear out.

Unsupported Policy #1: Covering your reservoirs will protect public health. Fact: EPA has documented multiple cases of death and illness caused by infectious Cryptosporidium outbreaks in drinking water systems. Every single case was either in a system with covered drinking water storage, or in a system where sewage, industrial, and farm runoff mixed with drinking water.* 2 The policy to “protect people from infectious Crypto” can be supported. The facts, however, don’t seem to support the use of lids as a meaningful treatment technique for microbes. Debris of all sizes enters all forms of water storage devices. If there is an inlet and an outlet for the water, there are entry points for non-water matter including microbes; covering a reservoir does not eliminate the need to manage contamination. Covers do not provide a silver bullet in the effort to protect public health.

New York City’s Department of Environmental Quality has spent significant resources collecting data on one of their large open reservoirs, known as Hillview. Their question was simple and quantifiable: Is water any more likely to contain Crypto or other protozoa once that water has been in the Hillview open reservoir than water that has not been in this open reservoir? The answer also seems to be simple: No. Time in the Hillview open reservoir does not increase the incidence of protozoa found in that water.* 3

Portland, too, has spent significant resources documenting the safety of the city’s open reservoirs. Between May 2008 and May 2009, the Portland Water Bureau paid to participate in a study conducted by the Water Research Foundation (WRF project #3021 *4); this was a large-volume collection study, analyzing finished drinking water gathered at the outlet of our open reservoirs (water sampled spent time in the open reservoirs). A preliminary report from this study has been published and the basic results found in Portland were communicated throughout the year-long test period. There was no infectious Crypto found in Portland’s drinking water.

Unsupported Policy #2: Constructed facilities are superior to engineered, protected watersheds when creating quality drinking water. Fact: There is no substitution for starting with the purest water possible. Portland’s drinking water system is uniquely engineered within a substantial framework of protection (possible because this system was established more than 100 years ago), and the result is some of the purest tap water in the country. The federal LT2 Rule favors construction over protection, without much data to support that favoritism.

EPA can produce surprisingly little evidence to verify chemical filtration plants perform the duties we expect them to perform. Drinking water exiting a chemical filtration plant is assumed to meet a particular set of standards; but that water is not tested to confirm that it meets those standards. When Portland tests its source water as part of the Variance process this coming year, it will be testing to see if Bull Run water meets the standards chemically filtered water is assumed to meet, with little evidence that chemically filtered water can actually meet these same standards. Furthermore, if ratepayers in Portland do buy an additional treatment plant, in theory so that Portland’s water can meet these standards, consumers have little in the way of a guarantee that they will actually get the results for which they are paying.

Recently, EPA scientists publicly revealed that EPA policies are often politically motivated rather than scientifically motivated. In testimony before a US Senate Committee this past summer (June 9, 2009) the Director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) exposed an EPA producing compromised work-products between the years of 2002 and 2007 (these are the same years LT2 draft and then final rule was issued; * 5) , because of undue interference largely driven by industry lobbyists. Responders to a survey of EPA scientists revealed 22% had personally experienced the “selective or incomplete use of data to justify a specific regulatory outcome.” The percentage of scientists reporting interference was highest in the program offices with regulatory duties (68%) and at EPA headquarters (69%). One survey-responder explained that in cases where regulation is industry driven rather than scientifically driven, “the regulations contain a scientific rationale with little or no merit,” because, “the real reasons can’t be stated.” *6

One can begin to see evidence of possible industry influence on the LT2 Rule by reading the 2004 public comments from the Unfiltered Systems Working Group (comments made while LT2 was still in draft form * 7 ). This group calls-out a particular favoritism being afforded, at that time, to one specific industry by EPA with LT2’s mandate to use an exact treatment technique (UV).

We are also concerned with Calgon’s UV patent and its cost impact to unfiltered
systems, which, based on the proposed rule, will have to rely on the operation of UV to
meet the Cryptosporidium inactivation criterion. We believe it is inappropriate that the
proposed rule’s reliance on “UV only” causes the unfiltered systems to pay a substantial
patent fee annually to Calgon to meet the LT2 requirements.*7

Note that representatives from Calgon served on at least one of the Federal Advisory Committees funneling information into the LT2 Rule. *8 A number of participants on these federal committees, some of whom were Portland grown, *9 appear to have conflicting interests including connections to the various industries that stand to gain lucrative contracts as municipalities attempt to comply with the LT2 regulation.

One can see further evidence of possible industry influence on the LT2 Rule when considering the Rule’s open reservoir requirements, which heavily favor constructing new facilities without providing sound scientific reasoning. The open reservoir requirements found in LT2 are a perplexing insertion into a Rule which is otherwise dedicated to source water issues, not storage issues. EPA does not offer a single citation of a public health incident linked to open storage; EPA does, however, cite public health incidents in water systems employing closed storage devices. Yet, the LT2 Rule does not prescribe any new requirements for closed storage (the devices with incidents on record). EPA’s focus here seems less about protecting public health than it does about promoting the financial interests of industry lobbyists.

EPA’s application of this cookie-cutter regulation on a water system as unique as Portland’s, has always been a questionable approach to ensuring the public’s interests. As evidence mounts that EPA regulations are grounded less in science than in special interests, cities like Portland must carefully question the efficacy of compliance.

Unsupported Policy #3: Microbes are a threat to public health, while chemicals are not. Fact: The overarching goal in drinking water management is to produce water that supports the public’s good health. Portlanders should question the underlying assumption that the public’s health will subsequently improve with an even further reduction of microbe exposure (beyond the low-microbe levels already achieved by first-world, modern drinking water systems). Does completely eliminating all microbes from drinking water make people healthier?

There is data that suggests otherwise. A 2004 study by the Water Research Foundation (WRF) suggests a surprisingly complex relationship between microbe levels found in American tap water and the incidence of chronic diseases associated with microbes found in an American’s everyday environment. *10 Decreasing the microbes found in a drinking water supply clearly increases health, up to a certain point. Modern drinking water systems have mastered this point by separating sewage and drinking supplies (among many other conventions). Beyond a certain point, however, a further reduction of microbes seems to be linked to an increase in the number of people suffering from chronic, related diseases. The WRF study would seem to suggest that there may be a point at which the public is dependent on some small amount of microbe exposure in the drinking water to provide them immunity and increase resistance to those microbes encountered in the normal course of a person’s day. Which sounds familiar = small, occasional exposure builds immunity and increases resistance to chronic disease. Employing large chemical treatment plants as an additional barrier between taps and a well protected, clean water supply like Bull Run may unnecessarily deny the population a chance to incrementally build immunity to microbes, while dramatically increasing the chemicals to which the population is exposed. Modern drinking water is increasingly laced with a myriad of chemicals, many of which are employed to adjust the composition of said drinking water. There is remarkably little recognition among water industry officials and municipality managers of the long-term effects those chemicals have on humans, in various stages of life.


1 Cooperation and Conflict in a Federal-Municipal Watershed, by Roy R. Wilson. Available online:

2 EPA whitepaper Finished Water Storage Facilities, prepared August 2002. Available online:


4 Project snapshot available online:

5 Also the same years during which the open reservoir requirements were inserted into the LT2 Rule.

6 Testimony by Francesca T. Grifo, Ph.D., Senior Scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, Director of the Scientific Integrity Program. Delivered June 2009, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Written testimony available online:

7 A copy of the Unfiltered Systems Working Group comments, January 2004, can be found on the Friends of the Reservoirs website:


9 As a representative of MWH, Joe Glicker served on various federal advisory committees with influence on the LT2 Rule. In recent years, Joe Glicker has joined CH2MHill, another global engineering firm specializing in water system projects. CH2MHill has secured several of the most recent LT2 related contracts, including the design contract for the Powell Butte reservoir and a contract to perform at least part of the work associated with the Bull Run treatment plant ( see Notice of Intent to Award associated with solicitation WTR082

10 Water Research Foundation, Northwest Epidemiologic Enteric Disease Study, Project # 2637; project summary available online: