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Keep Bull Run water as it is

All Portland residents and businesses will pay the price if the federal government persists in its unnecessary insistence that Bull Run water receive additional treatment at great expense to the public.

Portland's City Council was scheduled at press time Wednesday to vote on whether to start planning for an ultraviolet water-treatment plant that would cost up to $150 million. This ultraviolet alternative certainly is preferable to a previous plan to spend $385 million on a filtration plant, but neither facility would be necessary if not for the unjustified requirements of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA is pushing Portland down this costly path because it is enforcing a one-size-fits-all nationwide policy regarding a pathogen called cryptosporidium - a micro-organism rarely detected in Portland's water source that also has never caused a documented illness here.

While the potential impact of this misguided regulation is drawing vocal protests from Portland's robust microbrewing industry, the coming costs of additional treatment already are driving up water bills for all Bull Run customers - including the suburbs as well as the city. Already Portland has increased water rates 18 percent this year as the city made financial preparations to construct a filtration or ultraviolet plant. Meanwhile, city leaders continue to pursue a waiver from the EPA requirement.

Such a waiver is still the best option, and we urge this state's congressional delegation to use whatever clout it can muster - within Congress and the Obama administration - to encourage greater EPA flexibility. With the exception of a lone Republican congressman, Oregon has elected all Democrats to a U.S. House and Senate controlled by Democrats. It seems a fair question to wonder why local Democrats cannot make headway on an issue that will hurt the Portland region financially.

If Bull Run water was vulnerable to cryptosporidium, the EPA's regulatory insistence might make sense. But the watershed is closed to livestock and humans - the typical sources of this contaminant.

The expense of additional treatment is an economic concern for Portland residents and businesses already struggling in this recession. For decades, high-quality and affordable water has been one of Portland's calling cards for new residents and businesses. This region's economy enjoyed the benefits of this abundance - along with cheap electricity and relatively reasonable housing costs.

Those advantages are slipping away for a variety of reasons - but the trend doesn't need to be hurried along by the federal government's regulatory overkill.