Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities' LT2 Victories

and Missed Opportunities

Portlander’s learned this week, from documents obtained directly from the City of Rochester, NY, that Rochester has won a reprieve from LT2 open reservoir requirements.  This reprieve may very well prove to save their reservoirs and their ratepayers millions in needless spending.  But that’s not all we can learn from Rochester.  A look at Rochester’s path to this point highlights how Portland may have missed some meaningful opportunities to do more.

The city of Rochester has three open reservoirs – totaling 233 million gallons --  that fall under the LT2 requirement to “further treat or cover.”  (Portland has five open reservoirs, totaling 170 million gallons.)  The Rochester website nicely summarizes how that city evolved its approach to LT2 compliance for their three reservoirs, stating their goal as this: to “achieve technical compliance at an affordable cost.” (#1)

The original plan was to cover one reservoir with a floating plastic cover, just like citizens proposed here in August; this cover (plus associated work and a liner) would cost Rochester $11 million.  Four members of Portland’s City Council rejected the August proposal for a floating-covers compliance plan (it was supported by Commissioner Fritz).  Based on what Rochester is paying, the floating covers plan likely would have cost Portland an estimated $25 million, netting ratepayers over $100 million in savings.

Rochester planned a different approach for the other two reservoirs named Cobbs Hill and Highland.  Cobbs Hill Reservoir holds 144 million gallons, Highland holds 26 million gallons, and both are imbedded in parks in urban settings similarly to our Mt. Tabor and Washington Park reservoirs.  (For comparison, see Portland’s reservoir sizes in the endnotes.)  Operating under the impression that the “further treat” option in the rule was impossible because it would be too expensive and it would require a large plant in a historic park, the city originally planned to “cover” or build new tanks to replace the 170 million gallons served by Cobbs Hill and Highland reservoirs.  Their replacement reservoirs would cost them $29 million dollars.  Our Water Bureau also seemed to operate under this too-big-too-expensive assumption and thus dismissed the UV option seemingly without any formal data collection.  Instead they planned to replace Portland’s 132 million gallons of open reservoirs with 75 million gallons of new buried tanks.  This plan is estimated by PWB to cost us $400 million.  (Rochester appears to be getting new water storage for $1.45 a gallon, while Portland is paying $2.65 a gallon.)

In 2009 the citizens of Rochester pushed back against the plan to spend millions of dollars on projects that provide their city no benefit.  And remember, they were going to spend 1/10th of what the Portland Water Bureau wants to spend.  The citizen outcry in Rochester (matched by a similar outcry in Portland) was met with positive action and the Rochester water guys went back to the drawing board to come up with more options.  It turns out they examined 125 different compliance options in one study alone.   The Portland Water Bureau has never laid out a suite of compliance options for the city to choose from.  In fact, since 2009 they have steadfastly insisted there is only one option = spend and build.  Rochester discovered that their first assumption about UV’s cost and size was wrong, and that they could fit mini-Ultraviolet reactors into the historic gatehouses at the reservoirs –-- these are 24” UV reactors set in line to treat the water as it leaves the reservoir, reaching a treatment capacity of as much as 100 million gallons in the case of the Cobbs Hill reservoir. (#2)

When local large businesses requested a look at PWB’s detailed analysis of the micro-treatment option, they were provided three non-technical paragraphs (#3).  Inquiries for the specific study of the UV option are always met with vague facts that don’t seem to inform the discussion.  For instance, PWB starts all responses with a quote that Rochester has fewer citizens.  True, but they have larger open reservoirs with more water needing to be treated.  They state that Portland’s chemical cocktail is different than Rochester’s, and that ours would necessitate a “larger” facility.  They follow this statement with different assertions in different publications.  In one, PWB claims a UV plant at the reservoirs would necessitate a building spanning 5 acres.  Without access to the specific technical study that would draw this conclusion it is difficult to see how Rochester could build 24 inch treatment facilities while Portland would need a 5 acre plant.  It seems as though PWB may be stubbornly standing by their first assumption, digging in their heels in favor of staying the course.

Rochester’s second plan scrapped the buried tanks in favor of building UV reactors and this cut the city’s LT2 compliance bill in half.  They asked for and were granted a plan revision with the EPA in 2009, and another in 2010.  In 2009 citizens and businesses in Portland had to fight the Water Bureau to accept a compliance plan that would save ratepayers $200 million dollars on the source water side of the Rule.  Leonard and Water Bureau staff reluctantly conceded defeat in the face of vanishing Commissioner support, and the most expensive Bull Run treatment plant option (chemical filtration) was thrown out in favor of the cheaper Bull Run treatment plant option (UV filtration).  Unlike in Rochester, no conciliation happened on the open reservoir side of the rule, despite the public outcry here in Portland.  Portland’s Water Bureau has held fast that nothing else will bring compliance, that Portland must spend big and build big.

Still not satisfied that limited public resources were being properly respected by the LT2 Rule, Rochester’s Mayor stuck out his neck and wrote a letter to the EPA in September of 2011.  He said, “this regulation imposes expenditures that are too onerous and benefits that are, at best, difficult to measure …  the City needs to make major investments in its aging infrastructure by implementing already identified system upgrades with clearly quantifiable benefits…”  Our mayor could have written those very words, but he did not write the EPA on behalf of Portland in 2011 or ever.

Rochester got a response from Nancy Stoner, EPA's Acting Assistant Administrator for Water, and they recognized that in her phrasing Stoner was clearly opening a door and guiding their argument.  Stoner wrote “… there may be specific, articulable facts that warrant compliance schedule adjustments.  Many public water systems face multiple challenges in managing, maintaining and operating those systems.  Infrastructure construction projects can also present challenges.  It is entirely appropriate for primacy agencies to consider these system specific facts when evaluating a request to adjust a compliance schedule.  If a schedule adjustment is appropriate, the public water system should have in place robust interim measures to ensure public health protection…”

Rochester took her lead.  Their argument focused on “articulable facts” like maintenance and operating challenges.  They argued the Rule is overly burdensome financially.  The Portland Water Bureau has always claimed that the EPA would not look at budgetary constraints when considering timeline or compliance options (they appear to be wrong).   Rochester made a request for a compliance schedule delay to New York’s version of the Oregon Health Authority and in that request they  spent a respectable amount of space talking about the “robust measures” they have in place that have historically ensured their city safe drinking water (i.e. security equipment, bird wires, etc).  Our Water Bureau’s request for a delay to the Oregon Health Authority mentioned our “robust” measures mostly in the foot notes.  The Portland Water Bureau’s proposal for a delay didn’t look like Rochester’s proposal and it didn’t win approval like Rochester’s did.  In fact, OHA’s response to the Portland Water Bureau seemed to all but beg them for a more solid argument.  Interestingly, the Portland Water Bureau met with officials from Rochester’s water bureau after Rochester won their reprieve.  One must question why it is Portland’s request did not more closely mimic Rochester’s winning model when it most surely could have been at their disposal.

Since OHA’s June 2012 denial of this city’s plea for a time-out in reservoir projects, Commissioner Fritz (in collaboration with State Rep. Alissa-Keny Guyer and stakeholder groups) has asked Commissioner Leonard to direct the Portland Water Bureau to file another proposal, with more substantial data included in it.  Leonard has refused to file again, his most notable refusal was point blank and it happened when Commissioner Fritz publicly pressed him at a Council Work Session in July.

#2 a power point slide show from the City of Rochester entitled “Reservoir Study”.  March 18, 2010.

Portland Open Reservoirs in millions of gallons:
Tabor 1 = 12 million
Tabor 5 = 49 million
Tabor 6 = 75 million
Washington Park 3 = 16.4
Washington Park 4 = 17.6
Total = 170 million gallons

Rochester's Open Reservoirs in millions of gallons:
Rush Reservoir = 63 million
Cobbs Hill Reservoir = 144 million
Highland Reservoir = 26 million
Total = 233 million gallons

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Mad Men of Portland's City Council

I’d like to give you an update about the council hearing yesterday.  But, it has left me almost speechless.  And that doesn’t happen often.  I’m not going to pull any punches now, or I won’t have anything to write. 

Your City Council was illogical.  Remarkably so, even for people caught up in political thinking.  But what’s more, they were defensive, angry and whiney… it was as if they’d all caught Randy Leonard disease.  All but one, that is.  Commissioner Amanda Fritz stood by a logical, compelling argument on behalf of the community; a community which has united around this new proposal as never before in the LT2 debacle.  We should visit her campaign office this week and find a way to thank her. (I just looked, it's in my hood.)
Randy Leonard took bullying to a whole new level, looking into my eyes with such extreme anger as isn’t normally experienced in a civilized society.  While our coalition talked about new opportunities and moving forward and unprecedented and united support for this new compliance option, Nick Fish and Mayor Adams asked insincere questions as a platform to berate participants in the public process.  Nick Fish asked Kent Craford (Water Users Coalition) about past opportunities, then Fish condemned him for talking about the past.  Mayor Adams seemed to be accusing me of misleading the public about the fact that our proposed covers would be plastic… that this must be why I’ve used the words “Hypalon-like” in my public letter. (It isn’t true.  Hypalon was the brand name of the cover Portland owned once, and I thought specificity would bring clarity.  I’ve never sugar coated this new proposal.  In fact, I usually describe the covers as something akin to giant pool covers, and I can’t think of a less sugar coated description than that.)  Mayor Adams asked testifiers for citations for every assertion made.  Yeah for fact checking!  I love citations, if you know me you know I can provide my research, as can the people with whom I research.  But his tone made it clear he was not asking to learn more, he was asking because he hoped to demean people.  As if the citizens were clearly all parrots without independent thought, unreasonable people not fit to govern themselves, or at least not as fit as himself.  This fact standard did not apply to Water Bureau’s assertion that the reservoirs on Tabor demand high-priority seismic upgrades.  We asked to see their study and we were rebuffed with statements that they were The Bureau, with engineers.  Never mind that The Bureau has shown a propensity for expensive build projects not always sensibly prioritized. 

Dan Saltzman just kept showing signs of post-traumatic-stress-syndrome from his tenure as Water Bureau head.  He refused to believe that our supporters actually support this new option.  He was afraid they would all eventually come to their senses, for they must have been fooled, or knocked unconscious because that’s the only explanation for us actually uniting under one plan, and that when they did come to their senses they’d rise up and... bother him.  Nick and Dan alike seemed as much as anything, like they just want to bury these damned reservoirs so they can stop being bothered by The People.  After all, this isn’t even supposed to be their problem because this isn’t their bureau. (Never mind it’s our water supply.)  IF they took this new proposal, wouldn’t they be at risk of having even more meetings about these blasted things when the covers have to go through Land Use Review?  Nick recounted all the ways citizens can participate in the land use process (actually, he implied they could hijack the process – how is that for revealing your feelings about public process?) and how citizens could have a role in this discussion for years to come and man that would just be hell on wheels.  They didn't want to do something the community might not like, so instead they'll barrel ahead with something they KNOW the community doesn’t like.  And the logic?  After weeks of real community organizing, of consensus building conversations moving out in concentric circles, further and further into the community, our coalition has won an impressive list of supporters all wanting the same thing.  If we can so effectively unite behind this compromise and serve our support up in one straightforward letter and still not influence our Electeds, then all I can guess is that these men don’t believe in you, or me, or our rights to participate in government.    

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Testimony at Council Hearing Sept 5, 2012

For the Record, Agenda Item 997 - September 5, 2012

Today I voice a position supported by the full MTNA by unanimous vote at our neighborhood meeting last month.

Hypalon-like covers are one of EPA’s approved methods of LT2 compliance.  They are cheaper and they make us fully compliant. 

At this moment it is Common Sense vs. Over Engineering.  It is Preservation vs. New Construction.  Always before, in the LT2 conversation you’ve been forced to align yourselves counter to Portland’s culture.  You’ve had to choose Over Engineering and New Construction when what you’ve wanted was Common Sense and Preservation.
But not anymore.  There is no reason to continue on with Kelly Butte, or any other part of PWB’s current compliance plan for LT2.  You have a new option, one that’s not been on the table before.  The groups that have opposed this option in the past, support it today.  Business, public health, environmental, equity, and neighborhood groups are all on board.  The groups that oppose your current compliance plan SUPPORT this plan.  Even the groups that have opposed compliance on principle, SUPPORT this plan.

We ask you to reject Water Bureau’s attempts to muddle the conversation at the last minute with untested claims that these structures are unsafe and too old.   These are tired arguments, they’ve been addressed before in other forums and we can address them again if the community so desires.

LT2 is a Federal beast that has stripped us of local power.  We dare not mix into our relationship with LT2  any other project, or we unnecessarily hand over local control of those issues too.  Every other, non-LT2 project should be staged, costs and approach, in a way that best suits our community without the LT2 gun to our heads.
MTNA supports a change in our compliance plan to include Hypalon-like covers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Letter Wins Sweeping Community Support

August 8, 2012
(updated Sept 5, 2012 with new signatories)

Mayor Adams and Commissioners
1221 SW 4th Avenue
Portland, OR 97204

Dear Mayor Adams and Commissioners,

We support a change to the City's LT2 compliance strategy for open reservoirs. We support the City submitting to the Oregon Health Authority a new reservoir compliance strategy which involves Hypalon-like covers at Reservoirs 1 and 5 (Mt. Tabor) and Reservoirs 3 and 4 (Washington Park).
We support this Hypalon-like, cover compliance strategy because it protects the recent $40 million ratepayer investment in open reservoir upgrades and would provide the greatest opportunity for Portland to benefit from the LT2 rule revision process currently underway. This is the only option that preserves the functionality of our historic open reservoirs. This option also provides the best opportunity for the Mayor and Commissioners to actively engage in discussions with our federal representatives to secure permanent relief from onerous LT2 requirements for Portland's open reservoirs and our Bull Run source water.

This new Hypalon-like cover compliance strategy will save ratepayers upwards of $138 million in the near term and much more in the long term when debt service is considered.

Please connect community will to LT2 compliance strategies.


Stephanie Stewart for Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association                                       
Jeff Boly for Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association

Further Supported By:
Floy Jones for Friends of the Reservoirs

Peter Stark and Barbara Schwartz - Members, Hillside Neighborhood Association Board

Regna Merritt for Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility

Kent Craford for Portland Water Users Coalition Members:
   ALSCO, American Linen Division
   American Property Management
Ashland Hercules Water Technologies
   The Benson Hotel
   BOMA Portland
   Harsch Investment
   The Hilton Portland and Executive Tower
   Mt. Hood Solutions
   New System Laundry
   Portland Bottling
   SAPA Inc.
   Siltronic Corp.
   Sunshine Dairy Foods
   Vigor Industrial
   Widmer Brothers Brewing

Juliana Lukasik for Central Eastside Industrial Council
Portland Business Alliance
Mayor’s Small Business Advisory Committee
Thomas T. Ward, M.D.
Alissa Keny-Guyer, State Rep District 46
Bob Sallinger for Audubon Society of Portland
Sean Stevens for Oregon Wild
Olivia Schmidt for BARK
Maxine Wilkins & Michael Meo for Eastside Democratic Club
David Delk for Alliance for Democracy
Julie DeGraw for Food & Water Watch
Ron Carley for Coalition for a Livable Future
Andy Maggi for Oregon League of Conservation Voters

Anne Dufay for SE Uplift Neighborhood Coalition:
   North Tabor Neighborhood Association
   Mount Tabor Neighborhood Association
   Montavilla Neighborhood Association
   Sunnyside Neighborhood Association
   Buckman Neighborhood Association
   Hosford Abernathy Neighborhood Association
   Richmond Neighborhood Association
   South Tabor Neighborhood Association
   Foster Powell Neighborhood Association
   Creston - Kenilworth Neighborhood Association
   Brooklyn Neighborhood Association
   Reed Neighborhood Association
   Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association
   Sellwood Moreland Neighborhood Association
   Woodstock Neighborhood Association
   Mount Scott Arleta Neighborhood Association
   Brentwood Darlington Neighborhood Association
   Ardenwald - Johnson Creek Neighborhood Association
   Kerns Neighborhood Association
   Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association

Scott Fernandez for Citizens for Portland's Water
Franklin Gearhart for   Citizens Interested in Bull Run, Inc.               
Nancy Newell for Oregon Green Energy Coalition

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Contaminated Water Samples are not limited to Open Reservoirs – Remember May 27, 2012?

All drinking water needs managing, because microbes and objects invariably appear in systems of all makes and models.  Good water managers all over the country are testing multiple parts of their water system everyday because of this basic fact.  I hope this is not a surprise to the average Portlander, but the bacteria detect that happened this week at Washington Park is not an anomaly, not for us and not for any other system in the country.  It isn’t the only detect in our system water managers have dealt with recently (although, it is the only one they’ve reported to the media) and this detect does not warrant adding a lid to the Washington Park reservoirs.   Do you remember May 27, 2012?  Let me help you …

Most people are not aware that Mt. Tabor Park hosts at least one closed water tank in addition to the large open reservoirs you readily see.  This tank features the covered reservoir “technology” the Feds insist is safer for public health.  The Feds are not able to site even one scientific study that draws such a conclusion, rather they assert anecdotally that the intrusion problems they've documented for covered tanks should be worse for open storage tanks.  The anecdotal evidence, along with mounting scientific research, actually suggests the risks are at worst equal.

On May 27, 2012, (that is just 2 months ago) someone broke into the buried tank at Mt. Tabor and dumped in a host of junk including a sealed bottle of Hydrochloric Acid.  You never heard about this did you?  Well, this is a closed tank and reporting this incident would not bolster support for a massive new expenditure, so Water Bureau didn’t report it to the media. (Heck, they didn't even report it to the State's drinking water monitoring program for like a month.  Which is, I'm pretty sure, a violation of the 24 hour rule.)   After all, a covered storage tank can’t be seen as fallible, even if that would be the most realistic opinion to take.  Reservoir 7 was drained, cleaned, and brought back online without a word to the media just as is common practice with detects and intrusions. 

Remember those bright and shiny new buried tanks we’re spending millions and millions to build at Powell Butte, because they supposedly represent the “better” technology over the reservoirs we already own at Tabor?  I wonder how impervious those have actually been.  Oh, yes, with a look at drinking water reports at Oregon Health Authority you can see that their track record is about on par with any other part of the water system = detects happen, and they don’t get reported unless you are trying to convince the public of something else.