Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Watchdogs worth watching

A new group formed this Fall, and they plan to spotlight wasteful (to the point of illegal) spending by the utlity bureaus.  Interestingly, this group's research and commitment is largely an outgrowth of the movement to protect our water system from a wasteful and useless federal regulation called LT2.  The very well read citizens who have for years combed through Water Bureau documents related to water safety and LT2, have in the process earned an honorary degree in local Water Bureau politics and budgeting practices.  The best read citizens can shock you with what they've found. 

It is a group worth watching: www.waterreform.blogspot.com

Notice - Development at SE 52nd and SE Stark

In February of 2011, MTNA was notified by the new owners of the lot on the Northeast corner of SE 52nd and SE Stark that they plan to subdivide and build three new homes.  MTNA hosted a meeting for the developer and the neighbors of the lot to discuss.  Some surprises came out of this meeting, which took time to resolve.  Fast forward to the present (Fall 2011) and the developer has cleaned up their lot lines and filed for a Land Use Review.  Case File #LU 11-166252 LDP.

Neighbors to the lot submitted responses, largley worried for pedestrian safety and upset that so many large trees would be lost.  The MTNA Land Use Chair submitted a response which you can read here.  Given the structure of this confusing intersection, and the high level of school-aged pedestrian traffic it hosts, it is troubling to imagine 3 new driveways being added within 100' of this intersection.

Friday, October 21, 2011

PolitiFact more “politi” than “fact” today

When (in January 2011) the President ordered the EPA to open its ears, and take public comments regarding its regulatory practices, Portland had an opportunity to shine a new spotlight on EPA’s LT2 regulation and the unnecessary expenditures it forces upon our city. Our City Hall submitted, via lazy online form, a handful of disjointed, poorly crafted paragraphs in which only 3 sentences even mentioned LT2. Compare that with New York City’s response to this opportunity – they submitted over 100 pages, on letterhead, with scientific data detailing the flaws of LT2 and its blunt application across all water systems – and you see in New York a city that defines action.

When (in July 2011) New York City’s meaningful, relentless efforts to extract LT2 reform (and save billions of dollars) manifested an official EPA agreement to review and reform LT2 madness, Portland had an opportunity to freeze all spending on every LT2 related project (Powell Butte tanks, Kelley Butte Tanks, Mt. Tabor disconnect). But they didn’t. Instead, our City Hall allows our Water Bureau to move forward with these projects under the claim that they were “in the long-range plan anyway”. We’ll apparently need them in 50 years; never mind we can’t afford to upkeep them for the next 50 years until we need them; never mind that we already have more storage than we can use even without these new tanks; and never mind that the “long-range plan” from which these source was written 20 years ago, based-on what have become obviously incorrect consumption projections, and that the very Consultant who wrote this “long-range plan” now hopes we’ll stick to it no-matter-what because he’ll make billions on the construction of said projects.

Those citizens that read everything related to this issue know that PolitiFact just plain doesn’t get it, that Portland’s City Hall has NOT contributed meaningfully to this fight since 2009, and that there are more than enough examples of this kind of inept inaction to make even the most polite Portlanders hot under the collar.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Join Senator Schumer. Pretty please.

Early this summer, Mayor Blumberg of New York City blasted the EPA for failing to reform the reservoir mandate, known as LT2, even after an Executive Order directed EPA to evaluate the cost and burden of its regulations. The Wall Street Journal reported on this letter from Blumberg’s office to EPA in an article titled “City Lashes Out at EPA” (read it here).

On July 20, Senator Charles Schumer of New York ardently criticized the senselessness of LT2, its costs, and its public health value as he called on the EPA to urgently reform this piece of regulation. You can see the letter he sent the EPA, and the press release around that letter here.  A quote from Senator Schumer, about the mandate to cover reservoirs:
New Yorkers have seen their water bills rise year after year after year, and the last thing they should be forced to do is pay more for a hugely expensive, questionable project when more cost-effective alternatives exist. While we must ensure that our city’s water supply remains pure, there is more than one way to skin this cat, and the EPA’s rigidity here would impose an unnecessary burden on New York City rate payers without improving public health in a significant way.
The coalition of businesses, public health leaders, environmental advocates, and neighborhood associations that joined together this year to press local officials for a logical approach to LT2 compliance, has now written a letter to Senator Wyden calling on our Congressional delegation to join Senator Schumer in his efforts to secure reform to this unnecessary mandate... when this letter is public, I'll link to it.

Concerned citizens are encouraged to contact their Congressional delegations this week; press them to follow suit supporting Schumer's efforts at LT2 reform.  It could save us.

Senator Ron Wyden:
Portland phone: 503-326-7525
DC phone: 202-224-5244
DC Fax: 202-228-2717
Online form: http://wyden.senate.gov/contact/

Senator Jeff Merkley:
Portland Phone: 503-326-3386
Portland Fax: 503-326-2900
DC Phone: 202-224-3753
DC Fax: 202-228-3997
Online form: http://merkley.senate.gov/contact/

Representative Earl Blumenauer:
Portland Phone: 503-231-2300
Portland Fax: 503-230-5413
DC Phone: 202-225-4811
DC Fax: 202-225-8941
Online form: https://forms.house.gov/blumenauer/webforms/issue_subscribe.html

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Convincing the Public

We have a water bureau administrator that doesn’t feel the need to conserve public dollars as acutely as he should. Shaff’s response to drain the reservoir was an overreaction that he himself admitted was not scientifically inspired but rather based on something he called, “the yuck factor.” This characterization is unprofessional, irresponsible, and frankly, almost unbelievable coming from a bureau director charged with managing a resource whose management is supposed to be wholly based in science. The water bureau has seized an opportunity to play on unfounded fears that will help them gain public support for unnecessary and expensive reservoir burial projects.

Several public health professionals, including one from OSU have made clear statements that there really is no public health impact from 6-8 ounces of an unwanted fluid landing in 7.8 million gallons of water. From what I saw of the surveillance video (in news reports online) it looked like the water level was low, low enough that the urine would have landed on the wall, not anywhere near the water (and likely it evaporated). It is my belief that this was a non-story, and a non-public health issue made into one to suit the PR plan.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Treatment Variance application reveals a stale plant design, flawed testing, and more nonsensical behavior

This morning I read just one section of the Treatment Variance Application Portland Water Bureau submitted to the state Drinking Water Program this week. LT2 is outlandishly expensive. Even the variance is going to cost us (testing at high volumes takes money). LT2 is also completely void of benefit to us, because we don’t have the problem LT2 is trying to fix. So, to summarize, LT2 is expensive and unnecessary for Portland’s pristine Bull Run Water. And yet, in section 6.5 of the variance application PWB just filed with the state, PWB makes the case for conducting useless LT2 tests even MORE frequently and at higher volumes than LT2 requires. Wha? If a useless test is no good, then doing even more of them is better? Well, it will funnel a little more money to PWB’s consulting buddies (a.k.a. their future employers) so somebody is getting something out of this, right?

In section 6.4.2, PWB lets slip that the UV plant design we are paying for right now (to wait on the shelf, just in case we don’t get our variance) will be stale, and possibly need “updating” (cha-ching). And the land use and environmental permits they are buying now, will likely also have to be redone (cha-ching). This is good planning? I don’t generally pack my potato salad the week before the picnic, because, that isn’t actually efficient preparation. If there is the possibility the UV plant design will be STALE by the time we need it, surely they built a clause into the contract that allows for a brief review for updating. Oh no, silly me, I keep forgetting. The principle is “funnel more money” not “conserve limited public resources.”
But most upsetting of all (it gets more upsetting) is the trigger to build the $100 million UV plant and the flawed testing protocol PWB put on that trigger. With so much at stake ($100 million dollars + future operating expenses) on the line for just two inconclusive test results, wouldn’t it seem prudent to be particularly careful when negotiating the test method. We wouldn’t want to choose a test method with well-known flaws, that the scientific community has identified as producing high false positives which overstate public health risks. Yet, rather than make the case for how much the science of Crypto testing has changed since EPA suggested testing Method 1622/23 as the standard for LT2 tests, PWB stated in the variance application they would employ flawed testing Method 1622/23. Almost unexplainable.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bad day

Commissioner Amanda Fritz was the only Commissioner willing to stand with businesses and citizens today, and she was the only Commissioner to vote against Portland Water Bureau’s rate hike request which includes funding for millions of dollars in unnecessary and premature LT2 project spending.

Commissioners Nick Fish, Dan Saltzman and Randy Leonard had nothing to add to clarify (justify?) their vote to move forward with these expenditures, even in the face of new legal evidence there are ways to avoid replacing our reservoirs. Mayor Adams only spoke enough to put a plug in for his “Mayor’s Budget”, by way of thanking the Water Bureau for acting on his request to trim the hike by 1%.

The business community, public health community, low-income housing advocates, labor and union advocates, environmental activists, and joe citizen all oppose this move.  They oppose the rate hike, they oppose the LT2 expenditures.  Yet, the majority of our Commissioners voted to approve a course that will give us double digit rate hikes for years to come.  It’s a bad day for a "city that works".

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It is now or never

Indeed, it's D Day tomorrow.  Make your voices heard.  Council must refuse item #532 and item #537 on the Council agenda Wednesday, or it will be hardly worth turning back.  Don't spend another dime, until you give the state Drinking Water Program a CHANCE to accept the variance applications for the reservoirs and the watershed treatment plant.  Don't.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hell does not have to freeze over

Over 100 people turned out for Wednesday morning's water rate hearing, which ran over its allotted 30 minutes by almost 5 hours. Forty-five people signed up to speak on behalf of protecting our open reservoirs from senseless LT2 projects, including Siltronics, Portland Bottling Co., Yo Cream, Alsco Linen, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

KBOO's Joe Meyer ran a 4 minute piece which holds several interesting quotes from Fritz, Saltzman, and Adams (they begin at minute 2:45). But if there is one thing I absolutely don't want you to miss it's the quote from Dave Wagner, formerly of EPA's Office of General Council, stating there is a legal path to both a variance and a timeline extension for the reservoirs (minute 1:52). It seems Hell does not have to freeze over, as Shaff has claimed.

Testimony brought out at least two new points worth passing along to all of your friends. 

Most importantly, there is a NEW legal opinion now in our possession (many thanks to the Portland Water User's Coalition) from Dave Wagner of Reed Smith (a large firm specializing in regulatory issues, including EPA regulation).  Wagner's expertise was brought in to review Portland's legal options for saving our reservoirs, because concerned citizens in the business community thought this moment in our city's history called for action more robust than what the city was willing to do on their own.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but this really does seem like the kind of homework the city bureau should have done by now on our behalf. 

Secondly, just in case you were still wondering if Portland Water Bureau had their heart in this fight to save our city from senseless LT2 expenditures...   Just last month at the invitation of the EPA (and by Executive Order), PWB had the chance to comment on specific regulatory flaws found in LT2 and other EPA regulations, and from what I can tell PWB submitted just a few disjointed paragraphs in which only 3 sentences were dedicated to LT2.  Compare that with NYC’s response to this invitation – they submitted a 23 page argument with 33 pages in supporting data about their Hillview Reservoir.  That’s what committment looks like.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


KBOO's Joe Meyer ran a piece on LT2 and the open reservoirs this week titled Open Reservoirs and Government.  It contains a number of good interviews with Dr. Gary Oxman (county health), Dr. Thomas Ward (an infectious disease specialist), Kent Craford (business - Portland Water Users Coalition) and Floy Jones (Friends of the Reservoirs).  You can even hear Joe Glicker's voice (ex-PWB employee turned cozy consultant; he has profited hardily off of LT2). 

While I hope lots of people will listen to the whole thing, I have two highlights that actually leave me a little speechless.

Minute 36 - Dave Leland with the state Drinking Water Program indicates that his organization has jurisdiction over the LT2 issue now and that it is within their authority to grant a deadline extension, but PWB would have to ask first.

Minute 6.29 - Dr. Gary Oxman with Multnomah County Health, indicates he does not expect to see any reduction in disease incidence with the new reservoirs because they aren't seeing any disease incidence now (in other words, they can't get any cleaner than clean).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

That doesn't really cut it

The Mayor's 2011 budget, touted as reducing the Water Bureau rate increase, barely drops the increase at all.  You see, although we've been saying the increase will grow your bill 85% over the next 5 years, it was actually going to grow your bill 86.3% ... we rounded down.  Adam's "cuts" will allow your bill to climb 84.7%.  Or, right about what you were afraid of and that's not a cut.

The Portland Water Users Coalition has had something to say about this not-cut, too.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Shaff is talking out both sides of his mouth...

How do you keep your customers convinced they are getting the purest water in the world all the while convincing them they need to spend billions of dollars to improve it? By pretending your hands are tied. Let me put the finest point on this: PWB has not done everything it can and should do to legally avoid construction of mind-bogglingly expensive projects we don't need.

In March of 2009 I directly asked EPA for the deadline to cover reservoirs. EPA replied quiet clearly: the rule doesn't name a deadline, each city sets their own deadline. Our water bureau negotiated a fast-tracked compliance schedule and handed it to EPA in March 2009 with only 24 hours notice to City Council. PWB does not want to save us money, they want to grow the bureau on our backs.

While PWB was gearing up to party with their consulting buddies, NYC was diligently compiling data and building a case to argue for an extension on the deadlines. To anyone that has read the NYC documents, it is clear that they plan to leverage their research into an alternative to unnecessary projects. They haven't just won a delay, they've won.

PWB hasn't put forth the kind of effort you or I would put into finding a legal alternative. My uncle used to say, when it comes to breakfast the hen, she is involved, but the pig, the pig is committed. PWB's acting like a bunch of chickens at a time when what we need is something more akin to a boar.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Rally for Your Water - Friday

Rally for affordably pure water - Friday, April 22 at 12:00 noon in front of City Hall.  Businesses and citizens alike call for Commissioners to "press pause" on Water Bureau spending for LT2 projects.

City Hall is at 1221 SW 4th Ave; between SW Jefferson and SW Madison on SW 4th

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Portland Water Bureau still spending, now to disconnect Tabor

If you haven’t kept up with the flurry of reporting about our drinking water, the fate of our reservoirs, or questionable Water Bureau spending… visit the “Press Room” page of www.foresttofaucetpdx.blogspot.com for a fairly comprehensive list of links to the latest reads across media outlets.

The Community Ask
A broad range of community and business leaders are supporting the letter written by Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility (dated March 10, 2011, read it here) which requests Commissioners immediately intervene to delay LT2 projects. The list of signed supporters grows daily, and at this point includes organizations like the Portland Business Alliance, Widmer, Sierra Club, Oregon Small Business Association, and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. Watch this list grow by clicking here.

As of yet, Council hasn’t taken any action to slow LT2 spending or to follow New York City’s lead and ask for a delay in deadlines.

Disconnecting Tabor
Despite the recent groundswell of community and business support for a time-out on LT2 projects, Portland Water Bureau is still spending money. Just a few weeks ago Water Bureau selected a contractor to disconnect the Mt. Tabor reservoirs -- a project estimated to cost $500,000 that will likely go before City Council sometime in the next six weeks. You’ll note that this half-a-million dollar project to shut off the Tabor reservoirs comes shortly on the heels of another contract wrapping up millions of dollars in reservoir “upgrades.” If you’d like to see a description of this disconnect project, read the Request For Proposal here (especially page 2 “Part I, Section A, 2. Background”).

A Rally – this coming Friday
The word is several stakeholder groups are calling for a rally in front of City Hall this Friday over lunch. Show up and inspire Commissioners to get moving on the Community Ask. April 22, 12 noon, outside City Hall at 1221 SW 4th Ave.

Water Rate Hearing – May 18, 10:15 am
A tentative date has been set for Council to hear the Water Bureau’s request for rate increases that will drive up your bill 85% over the next 5 years. Attendance is essential if you want Council to insist on something more sensible. Council Chambers in city hall. Check on the agenda as it develops here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Oregonian Recognizes the Safety of our Water, and the Peril of Debt

In this Sunday's editorial piece, the Editorial Board at the Oregonian declared our drinking water safe and our financial health in peril.  Their willingness to finally recognize the data that verifies Portland really does serve clean water from Bull Run through both open and closed reservoirs, is in part inspired by a letter written by Dr. Thomas Ward (an infectious disease specialist at OHSU) to Commissioner Leonard and others this week.  Ward's letter is highly educational, and I can't recommend it enough: read the Ward Letter

The editorial also refers to the Portland Waters Users Coalition's opinion that Portland is barrelling towards a precipice.  (PWUC is a coalition of businesses which depend heavily on affordably clean water; you'll note that Widmer Brewing is a member).  A letter drafted this week by the Physicians for Social Responsibility (and signed on to by many groups, including Widmer, PWUC, Sierra Club, and Food &Water Watch) adamantly urged our Commissioners to take immediate action to stop LT2 contracts and seek a delay in the compliance timeline.

In the last few weeks, reporter Scott Learn has produced two substantive articles on our water system and how EPA's LT2 seems an inappropriate mandate here.  Read the first article here, and the second article here.  This issue is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What can be done? Stop the LT2 insanity.

Here is what Portland CAN do to save money on open reservoir projects they don’t need (read below how to stop the Bull Run treatment plant we don't need):

1) Don’t throw good money after bad = KILL THE CONTRACTS. When David Shaff says, “Hell will freeze over,” before the reservoirs will be saved, he’s employing a tactic to maintain your apathy. My house catches on fire and I don’t just walk away and say, oh well, it’s burned now. No, I employ the fire department to stop the damage. Even if the Water Bureau has blown through $200 million on tanks we don’t need, that’s still $500 million (with interest) less than what this will cost us if we just sit back and take it. This bureau has mastered justifying cost over-runs, stop the bleeding wherever you can and the savings will grow exponentially.

2) Look at Rochester (NY) – The good folks in Rochester, New York, are in the same “cover or treat or disconnect” dilemma as Portland is with regard to open reservoirs. They originally dismissed the idea of adding a micro-treatment facility right at the open reservoirs, but have since discovered it is possible to retrofit their existing small, historic structures to house the equipment they need to “treat” the finished water once again. This will allow them to keep their reservoirs open at a FRACTION of the cost. Compare their $25 million compliance plan to the $400 million compliance plan cooked up by our local contractors. And you can see why cozy relationships between PWB staff and outside contractors are sinking our ship. If you want, read some of Rochester’s plan: http://tinyurl.com/4r35uuh

The Portland Water Bureau only gave the micro-treatment facility idea the smallest of glances, which never got any more technical than “preliminary thinking” (PWB’s own word choice) -- thinking that was crafted by the contractors that want the lucrative buried tank projects.  When community members and large businesses recently requested a look see at PWB’s detailed analysis of the micro-treatment option, they were provided three non-technical paragraphs written several years ago (http://tinyurl.com/4szgfq9 ). That’s less analysis than I ran when I chose my hot water heater. (When a business coalition pushed for more details, they were informed they'd be charged for any information released -- none has been released yet). 

Call David Shaff and Randy Leonard and insist they complete a thorough technical/cost analysis of a micro-treatment option. Of course, if you ask the well paid PWB engineers to do it, they’ll sit on their hands and whine that it can’t be done. Here’s the trick, tell them they can hire one of their consulting friends to do the work. They always love funneling money out that revolving door into the hands of their future employers.

3) Consider all compliance options.  There are multiple ways to "comply" with a regulation set forth under the Safe Drinking Water Act. 
  • Seek a timeline extension, or "deferral."  The science has evolved significantly since this rule was written and in all likelihood the LT2 Rule will be substantially revised when the rule comes up for review in 2015.  The winners will be any water bureau that managed to hold on until the rewrite, and of course the big contractors that got their expensive projects in before they were clearly made unnecessary.  Portland Water Bureau set an aggressive timeline, and that was a disservice to our people.  New York City spent their time and money seeking more time and they won it... they don't have to build until 2028.
  • Challenge EPA and seek a "variance."  Regulation issued under the Safe Drinking Water Act must by rights allow for a municipality to argue that they've found an alternative means of meeting the standards set forth in the regulation.  EPA asserts that they do not have to honor the "variance" rights of municipalities (set forth in the Safe Drinking Water Act) because they have already determined that there is no other technology that works as well as a lid for protecting finished drinking water.  But, EPA has no science to support that finding.  And, all of the available science EPA can quote clearly shows covered water systems are subject to contamination.  Every major public health outbreak due to microbial contamination on record with EPA has happened in a covered system (like in Gideon Missouri), or in a system with sewage, industrial, and cattle runoff (like in Milwaukee, Wisconsin -- which, incidentally, also had an expensive treatment plant).  Lids are not the pinnacle technology, and they should not be treated as such.  Portland should be allowed to make its own argument for how it effectively manages contamination and serves clean water from Bull Run through both closed and open reservoirs.
  • Evaluate an in town UV system designed to process the smaller flow rates exiting our open reservoirs.  This flow rate is smaller than that of Bull Run, so the plant should be smaller and cheaper.  You'll notice, in Rochester they've discovered they can create adequate UV facilities in their small historic structures already next to their open reservoirs.  Why can't Portland?
  • Seek legislative relief in D.C.  The landscape has changed considerably in D.C. in recent months.
    Republicans on both the House and the Senate side have introduced extremist LT2 relief bills that endanger public health (HR 6393 and S 3038; also see the Cordova Times article).  Given the shifting balance of power, there may be an opportunity for moderate legislation to gain influence.  Only our delegation can read those tea leaves, however, they aren't likely to do anything on Portland's behalf as long as City Council sends mixed signals regarding this community's current commitment.  When I sat in on a meeting with community stakeholders and Senator Merkley in November,  Merkley noted a lack of leadership from Portland’s City Council regarding the reservoirs.  He wondered aloud why there seemed to be so little fight in this Council.  Senator Merkley reminded us that his federal efforts need to be in support of a meaningful effort at the local level.  
4) Demand a whole council approach. A wide swath of citizens and businesses alike have called for LT2 issues to be handled by the entire City Council, and not just left to Randy Leonard. As educated citizens highlight the important facts about LT2 projects, Commissioners have repeatedly deferred to Commissioner Leonard in the face of their own confusion. This is not acceptable; demand that every Commissioner be accountable for each LT2 related step made within our water system.

5) Hold David Shaff and Randy Leonard accountable. Don’t let unreliable labor keep the job.

Here is what Portland CAN do to save money on a treatment plant Bull Run doesn't need:

1) Contact every Oregon Health Authority Board member, which now holds jurisdication over the decision to either accept or deny our "variance" application regarding the plant at Bull Run.  Be relentless.  Make sure they understand the entire issue, and press them to side with public health and financial stability.  One verdict can insure the public's health AND secure our pocket books (how often does that happen?).

2) Demand a whole council approach. A wide swath of citizens and businesses alike have called for LT2 issues to be handled by the entire City Council, and not just left to Randy Leonard. As educated citizens highlight the important facts about LT2 projects, Commissioners have repeatedly deferred to Commissioner Leonard in the face of their own confusion. This is not acceptable; demand that every Commissioner be accountable for each LT2 related step made within our water system.

3) Hold David Shaff and Randy Leonard accountable. Don’t let unreliable labor keep the job.