July 1 water increase especially controversial this year

Portland water rates, sewer rates and stormwater fees are scheduled to increase Friday, the first day of the city's new fiscal year.

The combined charge for the average residential customer will increase from $77.99 to $84.38 a month. If the increases continue as forecast in city budget documents, they will total $115.76 a month in the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2015.

Average residential water rates will rise from $24.66 to $27.85 on Friday. The increase was perhaps the most controversial budget issue decided by the City Council this year. Much of the additional revenue will go for two Water Bureau projects that many Portlanders do not believe are necessary.

Both of the projects are required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. One is $100 million plant at the dam in the Bull Run watershed to treat the water supply for Cryptosporidium, a potential deadly contaminant found primary in animal feces. The other is a series of underground tanks to replace the five open reservoirs in Mt. Tabor and Washington parks. They could cost up to $400 million.

Although the EPA says both projects are necessary to protect public health, many local residents believe the drinking water supply is already safe. The city is seeking variances from the requirements, so far without success.

Average residential sewer rates will increase from $31.54 to $34.16 on Friday. The largest portion of the increase will go to help finish the $1.4 billion Combined Sewer Overflow project being undertaken by the Bureau of Environmental Services to reduce sewage spills into the Willamette River. Other projects to be funded by the increase include the purchase and preservation of natural areas to protect and improve water quality, the rehabilitation of sewer lines throughout the city, the replacement of a failing sewer trunk line in the Burlingame area, and the restoration of the floodplain in the Lents area.

Average residential stormwater fees will increase from $21.79 to $22.37 on Friday. They are collected and spent by BES to help divert rainwater out of the combined sewer system, reducing the need for projects to increase its capacity and process contaminated rainwater at the sewage treatment plant in North Portland.

The council must approve all future increases during the annual budget process.

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