Portland to pay county $7 million for flow diversions

On a recent Sunday morning, Jeff Gottfried happened upon or what he called an “upwelling” of water from the pavement along the Fanno Creek Regional Trail just east of Southwest 86th Avenue.

The source? A wastewater line the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services’ installed in October. By the Garden Home resident’s count, the Dec. 1 discovery was the 13th time since the installation that the piping has leaked or ruptured, sending water of questionable quality across the heavily used Garden Home neighborhood trail.

“Since I first observed this water on Sunday at 10 a.m., it has been leaking for at least five days, maybe longer,” he said in an email to neighbors and Washington County Commissioner Greg Malinowski on Friday. “Let me point out that this is the new sewer line, the one that previously caused our trail to be defoliated, our neighborhood to be disrupted for months.”

The latest problem further vexes nearby Washington County neighbors, who have been dealing with wastewater leaks from the Portland bureau’s system going back to 2000.

System safeguards

The leak comes in the wake of the Portland City Council approving an intergovernmental agreement with Washington County’s Clean Water Services. It calls for the city to pay the agency $293 per month in service charges as well as $7 million for diverting storm and wastewater from Portland’s West Hills to its Durham Wastewater Treatment Facility between 2008 and 2013.

In addition to a new wastewater pumping station near a deactivated station along Fanno Creek, the Portland council is now considering a $1 million hydraulic surge tank designed to absorb leak-causing pressure in the problematic piping.

While the new agreement doesn’t mention fines, it includes stipulations related to the system’s potential failure. These include establishing a citizens advisory committee to facilitate complaints and the city developing an official “action plan” to fix the cause of overflows, said Mark Jockers, Clean Water Services spokesman.

“The agreement also stipulates that the city of Portland will reimburse CWS for overflow response costs if the overflow is caused by the city’s discharge of (the agency’s) collection system,” he said.

In November, Garden Home resident Michael Lilly withdrew his earlier appeal of the county’s Land Use and Transportation Board’s decision to allow the proposed pumping station, but said he plans “to continue opposing the new pump station in other forums.”

In a letter, he urged the Washington County commissioners to reject the new agreement.

“In 12 years the only time the pressurized pipelines haven’t repeatedly sprung leaks is when the pump is shut down,” he wrote. “I assume the city engineers have been trying their best, but after 12 years of their failures, we have no reason to believe they will succeed.”

Uphill battle

Commissioner Malinowski has supported Garden Home residents in their efforts to find a solution to the leaks and related disruptions. With the latest Portland council decisions, however, he admitted his efforts for Clean Water Services to take over the Portland flows — eliminating the need for a new pumping station or surge tank — have hit a virtual dead-end.

“At this point, it’s kind of Portland’s call,” he said. “As long as they try to defy gravity, we’re going to have troubles up there. And if (the city) is gonna spend any amount of money to do it, there’s not much way to stop them.”

While he agrees the surge tank plan would likely reduce pressure-related leaks, he opposes the Portland bureau’s insistence in pumping storm and wastewater several miles uphill to meet its downhill gravity system.

“The surge tank is a good idea if pumping flows over the hills is the way they’re going to deal with it,” Malinowski said of the city bureau. “I’m not sure what else we can do but offer an opportunity to hire Clean Water Services to carry out the management of the water and get it over the hill.”

A green solution?

Stephen Sykes, spokesman for the Portland bureau, confirmed the Dec. 1 leak on a section of pipe replaced in mid October, in response to an Aug. 12 breach. By Friday, city crews had placed signs reading “Sewer Spill” and “Trail Closed” on the path and drained the line, still pressurized from an activation of the Fanno Creek Pumping Station during late November storms.

A sampling of the water revealed levels of E. coli bacteria consistent with “typical” surface water conditions in the area, “but not with wastewater,” Sykes wrote in an email to Garden Home neighbors. “We’re continuing to investigate the issue and the potential connection between the water seepage on the trail and the Fanno pressure sewer.”

The bureau is in the process of testing the line, adding a bright-green dye to the water to, he said, “more accurately determine if any future seeping groundwater contains wastewater from the pressure sewer.”

Sykes asked residents to report sightings of the green dye to the bureau by calling 503-823-1700.

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