Throughout January and February, the media has diligently reported the Portland Water Bureau's news releases advising that cryptosporidium was detected in the Bull Run Watershed. Omitted from these news releases are very important facts.
Not all cryptosporidium species are infectious to humans. The majority of cryptosporidium species are noninfectious or harmless to humans. The few species that are infectious include the parvum and bovine species, the two responsible for most of the significant public health outbreaks. These originate from humans and cows. There is no evidence that the small quantity of cryptosporidium recently detected in the Bull Run Watershed are from an infectious source.
While media reports reference the 1993 Milwaukee, Wisconsin, cryptosporidium outbreak, it is not reported that Milwaukee's watershed could not be more dissimilar to the Bull Run Watershed, the nation's only federally protected watershed. Not only are there cows and active human activity in Milwaukee's watershed, there are feed lots and cities. Human entry to the Bull Run Watershed is restricted, secured and monitored, and there are no cows.
At the time of Milwaukee's cryptosporidium outbreak, Milwaukee had in place a costly state-of-the art filtration plant. That filtration plant failed, allowing sewage to flow into their drinking water.
Utility, university and water industry scientists and representatives including the American Water Works Association have long criticized the development of the EPA LT2 surface water rule for it's sampling methods that do not distinguish between harmless and harmful cryptosporidium species.
In 2004, five of the nation's large unfiltered water systems, New York, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, submitted joint lengthy comments to the then-draft EPA LT2 rule, addressing its flaws including EPA's sampling method that does not identify the species.
In 2012, I joined New York, Rochester, Portland and Tacoma's water departments, university scientists, a AWWA representative, and others at an EPA six-year LT2 rule review meeting in Washington, D.C. Attendees and others through separate comments to the EPA again identified and recommended opportunities for EPA to reduce costs and improve benefits by improving analytical methods to include genotyping positive samples.
Portland water rates are high enough without spending $80 million on a UV radiation treatment plant for a problem that does not exist.
For many reasons, we need to get back to drinking from the protected Bull Run Watershed, including avoiding radon. Another fact not included in the Portland Water Bureau's news releases is that radon is present in the Columbia South Shore Well Field water and absent in Bull Run water.
"Radon has never been detected in the Bull Run surface water supply. In past years, radon has been detected at varying levels in Portland's groundwater wells." (Portland Water Bureau, Southeast Examiner, October 2014)
Without Portland's open reservoirs to vent the radon, it now enters our homes, schools and businesses every time water is used while the Columbia South Shore Well Field is in operation. And do you notice that since the switch our water no longer tastes so great? I do. Let's get back to drinking Bull Run water.
Floy Jones has served on the Portland Water Bureau's budget committees, is a founder of Friends of the Reservoirs, and serves on the Board of Directors of Water Accountability Trust and Reform.