Why filtration is still the right choice for our community
In almost two years as the commissioner in charge of the Portland Water Bureau, I have been proud to follow Commissioner Nick Fish's legacy of leading restored public trust in the public servants providing the Portland area's delicious, safe drinking water. We have demonstrated leadership in public health, resilience, affordability and equity. These values are exemplified in the Bull Run Filtration Project.
Public health is the primary driver in this project. Portland is required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to upgrade the Bull Run system to remove Cryptosporidium and other microorganisms from our drinking water. We don't have a choice. Cryptosporidium is a disease-causing microorganism that can cause serious illness for people with compromised immune systems and other medical conditions. Filtration will protect the most medically vulnerable water users. The City committed to EPA to install it.
Filtration goes far beyond just public health. The technology at the plant will remove sediment, organic material, and other potential contaminants. Filtration will provide consistent high-quality drinking water, making the water system more reliable in an earthquake, forest fire, algae bloom or other unforeseen scenarios. A safe and abundant drinking water supply fuels our economy and our community.
While less expensive options like ultraviolet (UV) treatment exist, they only treat Cryptosporidium. Nothing more. There are no other water quality benefits to UV.
In 2017 under the leadership of Commissioner Fish — who worked so hard to restore public trust in the Water Bureau and to defend it against attacks from private interests — public health experts, utility oversight groups and community members weighed in. The City reached an agreement with the Oregon Health Authority on the filtration mechanism and timeline to meet federal EPA requirements. The filtration project must be completed by 2027. Many decisions have not yet been made and the bureau continues to work with neighbors on designing a facility that reduces disruptions and fits into the character of this rural community. Like Commissioner Fish, I have always believed government should keep its promises and do what it says it will do. We are committed to working with nearby neighbors to address their concerns, while fulfilling our obligation to nearly one million people who rely on safe, abundant Bull Run water.
Affordability is key in this project. This fall, we hope to close on a long-term, low-cost loan from the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program for this project. WIFIA was founded with leadership by Oregon's Senator Jeff Merkley to significantly reduce costs while creating jobs and investing in needed drinking water infrastructure. This project will be especially important to help put Oregonians back to work after the COVID-19 crisis abates. Backing out now would be hugely damaging to Portland's ratepayers and to the City's ability to secure federal assistance on other programs. I share the concern for ratepayers — I am one. The WIFIA loan will pay for multiple system improvements, at lower cost to ratepayers than if we had to shoulder the debt without federal assistance.
Capital spending on crucial water infrastructure projects creates and sustains jobs. The Bull Run Treatment Project is estimated to create approximately 7,500 direct construction jobs over the years of the project, as well as a dozen permanent full-time jobs after construction. The project also includes Community Benefits Agreements to support openings for Disadvantaged, Minority-Owned, Women-Owned, and Emerging Small Businesses firms. People previously unable to benefit from the Carpenter Lane site will have opportunities in the construction project.
I'm also the co-founder and Commissioner in Charge of the Office of Equity and Human Rights. We all deserve access to clean safe, reliable drinking water. From Flint, Michigan, to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when water infrastructure fails, the impacts are concentrated on the most vulnerable. The filtration facility will provide safe and abundant water for generations to come.
We live in uncertain times. The Portland Water Bureau remains committed to public health, reliability, resilience, and equity. This is why we need a reliable filtration facility now, more than ever.
Amanda Fritz was first elected to the City Council in 2008. She will retire after three terms at the end of the year.
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