East Portland

What does covering city reservoirs mean for your water bill?

What does covering city reservoirs mean for your water bill? »Play Video
Crews work on a new underground reservoir at Powell Butte in Southeast Portland. (KATU photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The City of Portland on Monday announced plans to shut down the city’s uncovered reservoirs and rebuild others in compliance with public health requirements.

Despite multiple appeals on the state and federal level since 2006, the city announced they’re done fighting the Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Health Authority.

So what do the projects mean for your water bill?

According to the Portland Water Bureau, you can expect a 13.5 percent increase on your bill in the next five years. If you’re paying $10 per month now, in five years it will be about $11.30 per month.

The EPA rule prohibits cities from using uncovered reservoirs to store finished drinking water to reduce the risk of exposure to contaminants. The city of Portland is already deep into the process of putting a lid on its drinking water, with more rate increases scheduled to pay for it.

Rick Lapp is one of the project engineers for a new $80 million underground reservoir being built on Powell Butte in Southeast Portland.

“It’s like four soccer fields side by side, 30 feet deep,” he said.

Construction started in 2009. It will be ready to hold some of the city’s drinking water by this fall.

The new reservoir is right next to an existing underground tank built in the 1980s. The the new tank, plus another one on Kelly Butte, will replace the Mount Tabor reservoirs by Dec. 31, 2015. It’s unclear what will happen to the Mount Tabor reservoirs after they're shut down.

One of the city’s Washington Park reservoirs will be buried and covered with a reflecting pool. The other will be disconnected.

“We are looking to the community to help us preserve these historic structures and will conduct an inclusive public process to plan the future of our world-class parks,” the mayor’s office and city commissioners said in a news release Monday. “Recognizing the impact that compliance will have on rates, we will heighten scrutiny of all capital projects and contracts to keep rate increases as low as possible.”

Though the city's drinking water has a reputation for cleanliness, issues arising from the open reservoirs have cropped up in the past.

In 2008, the city prematurely drained millions of gallons of water when someone threw latex paint into a reservoir at Mount Tabor. In 2011, again at Mount Tabor, a security camera caught a man urinating into the water and the city drained the 7.5 million-gallon reservoir at a cost of about $36,000.

Portland’s drinking water rates have doubled in the last 10 years. Replacing and upgrading the reservoirs comes with a price tag of about $300 million.

Can the city keep rates from ballooning even more by putting off maintenance and earthquake upgrades?

“It’s a matter of weighing our risk and our willingness to pay,” said Portland Water Bureau Director David Shaff. “That’s the conversation we will have with the council this summer.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.