City says water is clean; no need for Fed-mandated system

City says water is clean; no need for Fed-mandated system »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. – The city of Portland is working to get out of building a federally-mandated water treatment system that kills a dangerous intestinal parasite.

Cryptosporidium is found in surface water and can easily get into water supplies, but the Portland Water Bureau says it's not in the city's water system.

The Bureau has spent years sampling and testing the water that comes out of the Bull Run watershed. It has put the results into a "Request for a Variance" which asks for an exception to the high Environmental Protection Agency water-quality standards.

It's about 800 pages of findings the bureau says proves there is no Cryptosporidium in the water. Because of that, it argues the city doesn't need to build a $100 million treatment system to handle the parasite.

As far as the Water Bureau knows, no other city has ever asked for this because most don't have the unique pure water system like Portland's. So the Water Bureau really doesn't know what it will take to convince regulators.

"Our first couple of attempts met with their rejection," said David Shaff, Water Bureau administrator. "So it's taken a long time just to establish the rules of the game, if you will. And then we spent over a year doing this intensive testing."

The state has the final say on accepting the variance. The Water Bureau expects the review to take about six months. In the meantime, the Bureau will keep working on the design for the new treatment facility so by the end of the year they'll be ready either way.

Two weeks ago, the Portland City Council approved a 13-percent increase for water bills. The increase already factors in paying for a new treatment system as well as helping pay to put covers on Portland’s water reservoirs to protect against Cryptosporidium.

If the city gets its variance, the size of the rate increase could go down and save ratepayers about $70 million.

Even with a variance, there are regulations that require additional monitoring to make sure no Cryptosporidium shows up. Money will need to be spent on that.