Northeast Portland

City's $400K 'Water House' raises eyebrows

PORTLAND, Ore. - Why did the Portland Water Bureau spend over $400,000 to build a house at a time when its customers are struggling to pay their high water and sewer bills?

Portlanders are paying the fifth highest utility bills in the country because of the expensive Big Pipe Sewer Project. That's why some people are scratching their heads about the Portland Water Bureau's decision to spend so much money on building an environmentally friendly house that actually ended up costing twice the original estimate.

Now the 2,100 square foot Water House does have interesting features. It was built with water-friendly construction (like a porous driveway that cuts down on stormwater runoff), it has variable flow toilets that flush with grey water captured from the sinks and the walls are extra thick. Also, the floors are recycled from an old basketball court and all of the appliances are energy efficient.

The project was City Commissioner Randy Leonard's baby. He said it's a demonstration project that will actually save ratepayers money in the long run if the house can convince builders to go green.

"We could do the easy thing and ask people to conserve water but that is not going to get us where we need to be," Leonard said. "If we don't actually incorporate water conservation strategies into new homes and into the way people do their day-to-day living in Portland, the cost is going to be much higher."

Leonard's concern about conserving water stems from the city's diminishing water supply. According to Leonard, if Portlanders don't build to conserve the city's Bull Run water supply will soon be tapped out, requiring the construction of another billion dollar dam.

The Water House is the fanciest and most expensive home in the neighborhood. A house across the street that's for sale is listed at $173,000. The idea was to try to recoup the money spent on the house by selling it but Leonard said he may instead decide to keep it long-term.

"We may not ever sell that house," he said. "If it remains as popular as it is right now, we will keep it as a demonstration project for builders and homeowners to walk through so they will incorporate the strategies that house uses to conserve water consumption."

There was an open house for the public last Sunday, but according to the Portland Water Bureau, there are no plans to keep the house open for regular public viewing. Officials said it is meant for contractors and vendors of environmentally-friendly products to use for demonstrations.