Open reservoir supporters say two New York cities have been granted EPA project extensions

Supporters of Portland’s open reservoirs are making another last-ditch effort to persuade the City Council to stop building replacement underground storage tanks.

The council authorized the approximately $300 million replacement project to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules intended to protect public water supplies.

But in a Tuesday press release, the Portland Water Users Coalition notes that two reservoirs in New York have now been granted lengthy extension in complying with the rules — extensions the group believes will carry them well past the time when the rules will be changed to allow at least some open reservoirs to remain.

“The EPA is reviewing the rule and the review must be completed by 2016. Many people believe the rule will be changed to allow open reservoirs to remain because it is such a financial hardship to cover or replace them,” says PWUC director Kent Craford, whose group represents large water users.

Craford was supported in the release by Floy Jones, co-founder of the grassroots Friends of the Reservoirs.

The rules are known as LT2. New York U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer pressed the EPA to review them after learning it would cost the City of New York around $1 billion to comply.

"The EPA wouldn't have agreed to the review if they weren't willing to recognize that some cities simply can't afford to comply," says Craford.

Since then, the EPA has given New York until 2028 to cover or replace the Hill View Reservoir.

More recently, the EPA gave the City of Rochester until 2024 to cover its historic open reservoirs.

“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If Rochester can delay implementation of the LT2 open reservoir mandate on economic grounds, Portland should be able to as well. Why is a federal rule being applied one way in New York and another way in Portland? And why is the Portland City Council doing nothing about it?” Craford asked in the release.

The EPA has granted the Oregon Health Authority the power to determine whether an extension is justified. Although the council asked the OHA for an extension on economic hardship grounds, it was denied.

Craford says the council should ask again now that the EPA has granted an extension to Rochester. He notes that Portland water rates have increased 61 percent since 2008. The council is projecting a 14.8 percent increase in 2013, partly to pay for a new underground reservoir at Kelly Butte. A new underground reservoir at Powell Butte has already been completed.

So far only Commissioner Amanda Fritz has opposed replacing the open reservoirs. Jones say the rest of the council should join her.

“It’s imperative that Commissioners Fish and Saltzman join Commissioner Amanda Fritz, and act now to protect Portland ratepayers from crippling water rates. They must immediately stop work on the unnecessary $80 million Kelly Butte project. They should demand, as Rochester did, an LT2 compliance delay from the State of Oregon citing out of control water rate increases,” Jones says.

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