City hopes to follow NY lead on open reservoirs

Officials push congressional leaders for an EPA review of local issue

After five years of legal fights and thousands spent to comply with federal clean water regulations, Portland officials hope they can get the same deal as New York when it comes to covering open reservoirs.

City officials are asking Oregon's congressional delegation to press the federal Environmental Protection Agency for a similar review of reservoir capping requirements in Portland that the agency granted New York's Hillview site last week.

In an Aug. 19 letter to New York Sen. Charles Schumer, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson wrote that the agency was willing to review its Safe Drinking Water Act federal Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT2) to cover alternative resolutions to the uncovered reservoirs. It was the first time since the rule was enacted that the EPA had agreed to review its requirements.

'As we conduct our review we intend to consider innovative approaches for public water systems . . . while meeting the Safe Drinking Water Act requirement to maintain or improve public health protection for drinking water,' Jackson wrote.

City Commissioners Randy Leonard and Amanda Fritz both said the city should follow New York's lead and ask for a local review of the LT2 open reservoir rules that could force Portland to spend millions on a cover for the city's five uncovered reservoirs.

'Last Friday, to the city's extreme surprise, the EPA reversed its longstanding refusal to review the LT2 requirements for uncovered reservoirs,' Leonard wrote Monday to U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer. 'The EPA's letter (to Schumer) stands in stark contrast to the intractable position asserted by the agency in repeated communications with the city. These communications consistently indicated that there are no alternative compliance options under the reservoir component of the rule.'

If that's no longer the case, Leonard wrote, the state's congressional leaders should push the EPA to provide the same relief for Portland as it had in New York, something that could save ratepayers $100 million.

'If there is a chance that we can save ratepayers money, we need to take a timeout and review our options,' Fritz said Monday afternoon.

Financial burdens on ratepayers

The EPA's LT2 rule affects open drinking water reservoirs by requiring that water systems either cover the reservoirs or treat the water. The rule applies to all public water systems that use surface water (rivers or lakes) as a source, such as Portland's Bull Run watershed. Nationwide, the rule affects about 14,000 water systems, serving nearly 180 million people.

Under the current EPA rules, Portland has to replace its open reservoirs with enclosed storage by Dec. 31, 2020. The city plans to construct two enclosed storage tanks - one at Powell Butte and one at Kelly Butte - to serve eastside customers, and an enclosed tank and new water main at Washington Park to serve westside customers.

The city must disconnect its open reservoirs at Mt. Tabor by Dec. 31, 2015, and the open reservoirs at Washington Park by Dec. 31, 2020.

Fritz said that last week's EPA decision means the city could halt plans for the Kelly Butte reservoir construction until the regulatory review is completed.

'EPA has not demonstrated that covering our reservoirs will improve the public health, but we know that it will impose extreme and unnecessary financial burdens on the ratepayers,' Fritz said.