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  • 21 Sep 2014

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City to drop reservoir fight

After years of fighting the feds, the city of Portland will begin the costly project of replacing the five open reservoirs that hold Portland’s drinking water.

An official announcement is planned for Monday. Replacing the open reservoirs will cost $275 million. No estimate has been prepared for the cost of providing alternatives for them in Mt. Tabor and Washington parks.

In the past, cost estimates for covering Portland’s water reservoirs have come in at hundreds of millions of dollars. Parts of the project are already underway, but questions about how to pay for the rest of it start now.

Opponents say the city should continue postponing the project, however. They argue the Environmental Proptection Agency is reviewing its requirement for New York and may change its rule in a few years.

"The EPA is currently reviewing the LT2 regulation and its mandate for covering open reservoirs, at the request of New York City and Senator Chuck Schumer. That review, set to conclude in 2016, may ultimately result in rule revisions which would obviate the need for NYC and Portland to cover its reservoirs. For Portland City Hall to throw in the towel now is like conceding on a bad call before the referee reviews the tape." says Kent Craford of the Portland Water Users Coalition.

Year after year the city of Portland fought the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its requirement to cover open drinking water reservoirs. The goal, according to the EPA, was to reduce the risk of exposure to contaminants. Portland appealed that decision in 2006 , 2009, 2011, 2012 and even earlier this year.

“The city said, ‘You know, it’s not a problem; we don’t have bad water here. Let’s not spend the money where it’s not needed,’” said the Portland mayor’s spokesperson, Dana Haynes. “The appeal was taken to the state level, taken to the federal level, taken to court, asked and answered.”

After one last appeal by Commissioner Steve Novick, the one earlier this year, was denied the city decided to start making plans for the future. And that means thinking about how they’ll pay for this massive project.

The plans are to disconnect the existing reservoir at Mount Tabor, connect new reservoirs on Powell Butte and Kelly Butte, decommission one of two reservoirs at Washington Park and renovate the other — covering it and putting a reflection pool on top.

Despite past cost estimates, Haynes said they don’t know exactly how much it will cost … yet. He said that’s partly because they still have to determine what they’ll do with some of the sites about to be drained.

“The community is going to get involved and tell the city this is what we want Tabor to be in the future,” Haynes said. “It’s great now, it can be greater.”

The prep work for this project starts immediately but Haynes said most of the physical work won’t happen until 2014 and into 2016. At that point, the city will need to figure out how to work this into its already tight budget.