City may win Bull Run variance from state

Oregon Health Authority says Portland's drinking water source not at risk
by: Tribune File Photo An aerial photograph shows the Bull Run Reservoir in the Mount Hood National Forest. The city could get a state variance from a federal requirement to treat the water source for cryptosporidium.

It looks like Portland may not have to build an expensive water treatment plant after all.

On Tuesday the Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Division proposed to grant a variance to the city from a federal requirement to treat the Bull Run water source for potentially lethal cryptosporidium.

In a press release, Oregon Environmental Public Health Administrator Gail Shibley said there is no evidence that cryptosporidium is a threat to the drinking water at this time.

'After thoughtfully, thoroughly and objectively examining the science available on the issue and on this particular watershed, we are satisfied that there is not, at this time, a need to treat the Bull Run source water for cryptosporidium for public health reasons. Therefore, we have issued an intent to grant a variance requested by the city of Portland,' said in the release.

The Portland Water Bureau has been preparing plans to spend around $68 million on an ultraviolet treatment plant at the Bull Run reservoir if the city could not obtain a variance from the EPA rules. The project was originally estimated at about $100 million. The Oregon Health Authority is authorized to administer the EPA rules because its own clean water rules are at least as strict as the federal ones.

"This is fantastic news and is testament to the quality of Portland's water source and its drinking water utility. Our detailed analysis demonstrated that the nature of the Bull Run source made additional treatment for Cryptosporidium unnecessary to protect public health," Water Bureau Administrator David G. Shaff said after the announcement.

The variance does not include the EPA requirement that the city either cover or replace its five open water storage reservoirs. Work is underway on that project, which will cost around $400 million.

The proposed variance would be valid for 10 years. After that, it will be re-examined and could be renewed.

A public hearing on the proposed variance will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 14 in the Room 1B of the Portland State Office Building, 800 N.E. Oregon St.

The Bull Run watershed is 26 miles east of downtown Portland in the Mount Hood National Forest. It provides drinking water for a fourth of all Oregon residents, workers and visitors. The city of Portland submitted a variance request on June 6.

The proposed variance would be subject to the following conditions to ensure cryptosporidium does not become a theat in the future:

• All current protections for the Bull Run Management Unit must remain in place, and the city must annually report to OHA the status of protection activities.

• The city must routinely monitor Bull Run water at the intake for cryptosporidium. Routine monitoring consists of collecting and testing at least two 50-liter samples weekly. Laboratory analysis must be conducted by an Environmental Protection Agency -approved laboratory following an EPA-approved method. If any sample detects cryptosporidium, monitoring frequency must be increased.

• Increased monitoring must consist of collecting at least four 50-liter samples weekly, in the same manner as the routine monitoring. The city must continue increased monitoring until the running annual average of cryptosporidium concentration drops below 0.075 oocysts per 1,000 liters.

• If, while on increased monitoring, any sample detects cryptosporidium, OHA may revoke the variance.

• The city must notify OHA within 24 hours of any laboratory results that detect cryptosporidium.

• The city must allow OHA or its designee access to the watershed to determine compliance with conditions, or for special studies, upon request.

• The city must in a timely manner notify OHA of any circumstances that might affect conditions of the variance.

The EPA can specify additional conditions on the state-issued variance.

'The state concluded that, with these built-in safeguards to protect against unforeseen changes in the watershed, a variance is appropriate,' Shibley said. 'We will also thoughtfully consider all public comments to ensure our final order is as well-informed as possible.'