Dozens protest plan to spend millions covering reservoirs

Dozens protest plan to spend millions covering reservoirs »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. – Dozens of Portlanders sat before City Council Wednesday and passionately expressed their opposition to plans to spend $500 million to cover the city’s open-air reservoirs.

A rate hike to water and sewer bills will help pay for the project. The average customer will pay an extra $6 a month starting in July. The increase will also pay for maintenance costs and employee benefits.

The big problem is a tiny bug called Cryptosporidium, which is a microscopic parasite that causes diarrhea. The Environmental Protection Agency has told the city it has to do more to keep it out of the water. But opponents want Portland to fight the federal government.

Testing of the Bull Run watershed hasn’t found Cryptosporidium to be a problem; in fact, the testing has yet to find any cryptosporidium at all. But the city’s water protection plan is still moving forward.

Those who spoke out against the project argued there isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed and it doesn’t make sense economically.

The concerns inspired 45 people to serenade the City Council with a chorus of opposition. Environmentalists joined by labor groups and local businesses all objected to the plan and the price.

"Of the 60 branches that my company operates in the United States, we here in Portland have the highest cost in water and sewer, even though we recycle our water," said Dan Bourbonais, general manager of ALSCO.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams said he’ll ask for a variance on testing the water supply for Cryptosporidium.

"We’re looking for relief from these regulations any and everywhere we can," he said.

But he said it will be harder to get a variance on the most expensive part of the EPA’s requirement.

"The feds told us in terms of covering the reservoirs, the EPA told us that wasn’t going to happen. That there wasn’t even the factual basis to apply for a variance for that," he said. "Now that it’s in the state level, we’re looking to see if there are opportunities for variances on the state level."

Adams will meet Thursday with some of those opponents, including lawyers representing the top water and sewer ratepayers as they continue to lobby the city to fight the EPA requirement.