It's hard to pick up a paper or read an online discussion in Portland without hearing about the controversy surrounding Portland Water Bureau's handling of the open reservoirs at Mt. Tabor and Washington Park. Unfortunately, media coverage sometimes aims more to sensationalize than to educate, leaving basic questions unanswered.
Our aim at Portland Water Info is to provide that basic information to the public.
Over the next few weeks we'll be expanding our "Frequently Asked Questions" list and adding links and citations. Subscribe via the link on our main page at www.portlandwater.info to receive updates as info is added. And if there are any other topics you'd like to see covered, please contact us through our Facebook page.
There are no known major health events attributable to open reservoirs in the US.
No. But in 2006 it did enact some new rules affecting them, known colloquially as "LT2." Though LT2 is highly technical in nature and affects all municipal water systems, it's worth learning a few details about it if one is interested in Portland's reservoirs.
LT2 can broadly be divided into two parts:
(1) All municipal water gets pre-treatment:
One part of LT2 requires pre-treatment before public drinking water is stored. This rule applies to all public water, regardless of how it is stored. An exemption to this part of LT2 is available to public water sources that meet stringent quality requirements. This is called a "treatment variance," and Portland is the only municipal water supplier in the US to have earned one.
(2) Water stored in open reservoirs also gets post-treatment:
Another part of LT2 affects only open-reservoir cities like Portland, requiring that their water undergo a second round of treatment (post-treatment) when it leaves open storage for distribution to the public. There are ways around this part of the rule as well, the most obvious being to cover or bury a reservoir so it that it no longer falls under this part of the rule--which is why this part of LT2 is often called the "cover-or-treat" rule. But another way for open reservoirs to avoid cover-or-treat is via a temporary exemption (a "cover-or-treat variance") or a permanent exemption (a "cover-or-treat waiver." When the federal government was negotiating with stakeholders over the drafting of LT2, it promised that cities like Portland could exempt their open reservoirs so long as they met certain safety requirements. But the US EPA then removed this option, without explanation, from the final rule that it published in 2006. In response to public outcry, the US EPA later backed away from this position and allowed cities with open reservoirs to continue using them while it reconsiders LT2.Did the State of Oregon outlaw open reservoirs?
No. It simply revised state law to resemble LT2 so that it could be deputized as the US EPA's agent and receive federal money to enforce LT2 locally. The public was told that this transfer of authority would make it easier for Oregon to preserve its open reservoirs.
But when the state's health bureaucracy got involved, things went awry.
At some point, with little fanfare or public process, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) inserted anti-open-reservoir language into the Oregon Administrative Rules. This language was then cited by Portland's pro-engineering bloc to justify decommissioning and replacing Portland's open reservoirs.
Water activists' main bones of contention regarding the open reservoir issue can be summarized as follows:
In local media, public officials with connections to the engineering lobby expressed an interest in decommissioning and replacing Portland's open reservoirs at least as early as 2002, long before federal drinking water regulations were amended to include the LT2 rule.
It was also around 2002 that local engineering lobbyists were sent at public expense to negotiate with EPA regulators in Washington, DC; and that SEC filings show that the engineering lobby expressing its desire for a federal regulatory environment that was more conducive to promoting large public works projects.
No. Before the reservoir-burial industry began its lobbying effort, several hundred US cities got their municipal water from open reservoirs. Now only three remain: New York City; Rochester, New York; and Portland, Oregon. The vast majority of US cities with open reservoirs unquestioningly paid the engineering industry to decommission and replace them. The global public works contractors who lobbied hardest for the LT2 rule have subsequently been implicated in numerous controversies over design flaws and no-bid revolving public works contracts, most notably Tampa Bay, Florida; Morro Bay and Los Osos, California; and Seattle, Washington.