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Our Opinion: It's time to treat Bull Run water
As Portland considers next steps with its Bull Run water supply, city officials need to think about cost, collaboration, public safety and — not incidentally — the flavor of beer.
The Portland Water Bureau learned last week it may no longer be able to avoid building a treatment facility to rid the Bull Run supply of a pesky parasite called cryptosporidium, which can be deadly if ingested in high enough concentrations.
The Oregon Health Authority and federal Environmental Protection Agency have placed Portland on notice for years that it may need to treat its otherwise pristine water to kill the parasite, which has been detected at microscopic levels from time to time.
The city has resisted such treatment because of its expense and also due to a desire by many residents to drink minimally treated water. However, following an unusual amount of winter rain and snow around the Bull Run reservoir, regular testing of the water between January and March showed trace levels of cryptosporidium, which is found in wildlife feces. The parasite was detected frequently enough that state officials were obliged to tell the city it would revoke its variance from federal rules.
This gives Portland the choice of continuing to fight — and probably lose — or agreeing to treat the water, either by filtration or ultraviolet light.
As it ponders those options, the city will need to check in with its customers, which include a few major industrial users as well as several suburban communities.
Some have said the city should invest in a more-costly filtration system now in case regulators tighten drinking water regulations later.
At first blush, however, the UV option makes the most sense. Previous estimates pegged it to cost around $100 million. But that's about one-fourth the cost of filtration. And it doesn't alter the quality of the water, which is a big concern for Portland's beer brewing industry.
City Commissioner Nick Fish, who has been in charge of the Water Bureau and favors a UV treatment plant, said it could be financed over the course of the project and have a modest impact on water bills for the roughly
1 million people in and around Portland who depend on the Bull Run supply.
It's a worthy investment to ensure the safety of the region's water — and the quality of its beer.
Water safety of a different sort
Memorial Day weekend was the unofficial start of the summer recreation season and, all too often, frustrating tragedies on Oregon's waterways.
This year, the warm weather of the previous weekend got the grim annual tally off to an early start, with at least three people drowned in separate river accidents, a reminder that the combination of warm days and cold water can be deadly.
Every year, Pamplin Media Group newsrooms report on lives cut short simply because people underestimate the strength of currents and the shock that comes from plunging into an icy river.
One example came two weeks ago, when temperatures soared into the 80s and a young man jumped into the Clackamas River near High Rocks and never resurfaced.
His death was one of dozens attributed each year to the same cause. In particular, teenagers and young people (especially young men) make snap decisions that can bring irreversible harm.
When long-awaited summer arrives in Oregon, the rivers and lakes look enticing, but there are safer ways for youngsters to cool down. Parents should encourage their children to swim only in areas with lifeguards — and preferably not in a river at all. (Safe Kids Oregon, a non-profit, has great information available at safekidsoregon.org.)
As for the slightly older set, alcohol too often plays a role in poor decision-making near rivers and lakes. The mixture of booze, bravado and frigid or fast-moving water has brought grief to far too many Oregon families.
This summer, waterways have swelled with abundant snow melt and are even more dangerous than usual. Parents and responsible adults should do all they can to channel youthful exuberance away from rivers and lakes and into safer venues.