Despite being granted an additional 60 days to submit a plan for fighting a potentially deadly parasite in the Bull Run watershed, the City Council went ahead and preliminarily approved the most expensive option at Wednesday's scheduled hearing.
The unanimous 5-0 vote directs the Portland Water Bureau to plan for a filtration plant to remove cryptosporidium from the Bull Run Reservoir, the primary source of water for the city and many suburban customers. It is currently estimated to cost up to $500 million to build and would raise water rates by as much as $18.14 a month in 2030.
The exact type of filtration will be determined before the plan is submitted to the Oregon Health Authority within the next two months.
"We don't have 60 days to do something and then we sit down and figure it out. We have to have a roadmap to OHA in 60 days," Fish said before the vote.
The OHA had originally given the council until Aug. 11 to approve a plan. It granted the extension late Tuesday at the request of Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Nick Fish, who is in charge of the Portland Water Bureau. They wanted to give the public, shareholders and advisory groups more time to weigh in.
But after more than three hours of testimony on Aug. 2, the council unanimously agreed that doing nothing was not an option and they had enough information to choose between a filtration plan and one that killed crypto — as the parasite is commonly called — with ultraviolet light. A filtration plant could remove many more contaminants from water than just crypto, although a UV plant would only cost $105 million to build.
Crypto is found in animal and human feces. Although some strains can sicken people and even kill those with a weakened immune system, they have never been documented in the watershed. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which adopted the rule the OHA is enforcing, doesn't distinguish between those strains that threaten people and those that don't.
Most public witnesses testified against doing anything to fight crypto, arguing Portland's water has been historically safe and either option will rate water rates and potentially change the quality of the water. But the council agreed that noncompliance was not an option and filtration was the best choice.
You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue here.