Water activists incensed over the city's decision to formally stop fighting a federal order to cover our drinking water reservoirs have been threatening for weeks to pitch tents in protest on Mount Tabor next month. They're calling it Occupy Mount Tabor.

But this morning, they showed up outside Portland City Hall with something of an olive branch for the city council: Pick up the phone and resume what's been, for years, an unsuccessful fight, and everyone will stay home.

"If you don't want the grass ruined, pick up the phone," organize Jessie Sponberg, a Mount Tabor native and Occupy activist, said into his megaphone. "The last thing I want is to pitch a bunch of dome tents with a bunch of hippies up there. But I will do it.... I don't care if police drag me off the mountain."

Sponberg was addressing a group of maybe 30 or 40 people who marched around city hall chanting about Portland's water being "under attack" thanks to a plan to spend hundreds of millions of water rate funds to comply with the feds by covering and building new reservoirs.

The issue has been bubbling for years but was set off again after city council, with the exception of Amanda Fritz, signed a letter last month calling off attempts to fight the feds.

Activists say giving in amounts to a sop for construction companies eager to start work on the expensive public works project, which, to fund, will require significant increases in the city's water rates. They say the city should keep lobbying the feds for a waiver, something that the city says hasn't worked.

The debate also has taken some of the leftover momentum for the city's fluoride fight—with signs and chants talking about poison and water quality, which is an interesting rhetorical angle, given that the reservoir mandate is aimed at stopping water contamination issues Portland's open-air Bull Run watershed system doesn't suffer from. The Oregon Health Authority has some oversight in the reservoir issue. And despite an internal review clearing the OHA of influencing the fluoride debate, trust issues linger.

"You are being sold a lie," Sponberg says.

Sponberg also said he didn't think the media was doing enough to pay attention to this issue. He mentioned me—people clapped, apparently not as chapped over our fluoridation endorsement—and hoped I'd be writing something. Which I was planning to do. And with a few more pictures, even.. after the jump.


Jessie Sponberg!
  • Jessie Sponberg!