Coalition could push to delay reservoir project because of public opposition

A new poll of Portland voters reveals what many could have already guessed: most voters think the city's water rates are too high.

Two-thirds of likely voters expressed that opinion, compared to 22 percent who feel the rates are 'just right' and 2 percent who feel they're too low.

The Riley Research Associates poll, released Thursday, surveyed 300 likely voters in Portland on behalf of the Portland Water Users Coalition, a group that represents large water consumers such as breweries and industrial manufacturers. The poll was conducted March 9 through 13.

• Click here to read the Riley Research Associates' poll on water rates.

The coalition reformed in January after learning that the Water Bureau is proposing to increase rates 85 percent over five years, in large part to fund around $500 million worth of projects urged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The group broke up in 2007 after the city went to court to fight the EPA requirements. The city lost the case, however, and is now making plan to build a treatment plant in the Bull Run reservoir and replace the five open reservoirs with new underground storage tanks.

Coalition spokesman Kent Craford argues that the city's water is so safe the projects are not needed. Water Commissioner Randy Leonard largely agrees but argues that the city has no choice but to prepare to comply with EPA rules.

The poll released Thursday includes two other key findings:

• Voters were asked if they would support or oppose a proposed rate increase of 85 percent over the next five years. About three-quarters of Portland voters oppose this idea, either 'strongly' (59 percent) or 'somewhat' (18 percent).

• Voters were asked their level of support or opposition to a postponement of current plans to spend $400 million dollars for new water storage tanks. A majority of likely voters support postponement (63 percent), either 'strongly' (49 percent) or 'somewhat' (14 percent).

Craford said he was surprised by the strength of the opposition the poll revealed and the fact that it was even stronger amongst seniors, 87 percent of whom said they opposed the higher rates.

Regarding the postponement of the reservoir project, he called the 2-to-1 ratio of opposition a 'very decisive' statement by ratepayers.

Craford says he's shared the results with some City Council staff and will align with other public health advocates to call for the city to postpone the reservoir project before Council is set to decide on the matter in June during final budget decisions.

'It's half a billion dollars for projects that are now scientifically proven to be totally unnecessary,' Craford says. 'It just doesn't make sense to spend a half billion dollars on a project that has no demonstrable benefit at a time people are still hurting.'

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