With Portland City Council potentially prepared to approve a huge and expensive water filtration facility tomorrow afternoon, Commissioner Nick Fish and Mayor Ted Wheeler have asked for more time before a decision on the matter must be made.
In a letter to the Oregon Health Authority today, Fish and Wheeler are requesting an additional 90 days to indicate to the state precisely how the city will treat its water supply for the parasite cryptosporidium. Portland is currently supposed to send word to the OHA by August 11 about that decision but, as we reported yesterday, a host of groups are cautioning officials not to rush.
"Because of the importance of this decision, we believe that it is critical for the City's ratepayers, oversight bodies, and other stakeholders to be actively engaged in the development of the City's compliance proposal," the letter reads. "Therefore, we respectfully request an additional 90 days to finalize our response to OHA."
Portland's the only city in the country to have won a variance to a federal rule requiring treatment for cryptosporidium, because detections of the parasite in the Bull Run watershed have been exceedingly rare. But after a three-month spate of detections earlier this year—which might well have been a fluke brought on by intense rains—the variance became impossible to maintain, the Portland Water Bureau has said. So officials are trying to figure out how best to treat the water.
Council tomorrow will consider at least two options. One resolution would have the city building an ultraviolet plant (cost, up to $105 million) in the short-term, while it socks away ratepayer dollars for a more comprehensive filtration plant (cost, up to $500 million) down the line. Fish tells the Mercury he'll also introduce and amendment that would lead to the city solely building a filtration plant, which is far more expensive, but which health advocates and water officials say better addresses threats to the water supply (he's dubious of an option, formerly thought likely, that would see Portland constructing an ultraviolet treatment plant alone).
And though Fish says he'd "be shocked" if the OHA doesn't reply to his letter by the time council convenes to consider these options tomorrow afternoon, he's not ruling out a final decision even if an extension is granted.
"My hope is that we can still reach some kind of consensus tomorrow," Fish says. "To be respectful of our oversight bodies, we felt like we should make this request."
By "oversight bodies," he's talking about the Portland Utility Board and the Oregon Citizens' Utility Board, two groups that scrutinize the city's water rates, and make recommendations to council. Both have pressed for additional time before making a decision as to how to treat for cryptosporidium.
If the extension is granted by OHA, but council makes a call tomorrow, Fish says he'll use the extra time to discuss next steps with the PUB and CUB.
"The question is: At the end of the hearing, do my colleagues have enough information to make a decision?" Fish says. "There’s a ton of work that has to happen following that decision."