City Commissioner Randy Leonard has compromised in the fight to filter Portland's water today—offering an amendment to build a cheaper $100million Ultra Violet filtration system for the city, rather than a more expensive $385million standard sand-filter system, in order to comply with federal environmental "LT2" laws.
Leonard has been pushing for the more expensive sand-filtration system for months, after having been recommended to do so by the "visionary" management of the Portland Water Bureau, he said. But City Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz went on record earlier this week opposing it on cost grounds, so either Fish or Adams, or both of them, must have swayed and chosen the UV option before today's hearing, too. [Fish said he wanted the "lowest cost" option when he voted, Adams didn't mention it]. It's a defeat for Leonard, who justified his compromise with characteristic pragmatism today.
"While people can criticize me a lot about my politics and my way of doing what I do, I don't think anybody has ever characterized me as being a bad vote counter. And I don't have three votes," he said. "I can count."
The commissioner's subdued tone was evocative of Caesar's "et tu, Brute?" He seemed disappointed with his fellow council members for failing to support his proposal.
Both the $385 million plant and the $100million option would protect Portland's water supply from cryptosporidium, a bacteria that hasn't been found in Portland's pure Bull Run watershed in living memory. But the $385 million option would mean raising water rates over 10 percent every year for the next five years.
Leonard's chief of staff, Ty Kovatch, told the Mercury yesterday that the UV system would only filter out cryptosporidium. Meanwhile, he said the sand-filtration system would have "a whole bunch of other benefits," including filtering out a variety of other bacteria and waterborne bugs. He said folks supporting UV were "driven exclusively by the cost."
The irony in the argument is that neither plant may ever get built. Portland is continuing to work with Senator Jeff Merkley and the Environmental Protection Agency to get a "variance" from the LT2 laws, citing the purity of our water supply. But council needs to move forward with a plan, now, to avoid jail time for the water bureau's bosses if the variance isn't forthcoming.
Plenty of Portlanders showed up to testify, asking council to keep fighting for the variance.
"We should plan for the lowest cost effort as the prudent step," said City Commissioner Dan Saltzman. "I do realize that there are secondary and tertiary benefits to the [sand-filtration] system, I just don't believe they outweigh the extra $300million cost."
"I agree that we need to work even harder than ever to get the variance from the EPA," said Fritz.
"Portland already has one of the highest combined water and sewer rates in the country, and Portlanders are struggling," said Commissioner Nick Fish. "If we absolutely have to correct a problem that doesn't exist, choose the least expensive option that does the least harm."
New York City, San Fransisco, and Seattle have all chosen UV.
"I look forward to moving forward on this subject and having the debate behind us," said Leonard.