Public has first chance to testify on spending up to $500 million on potentially deadly parasite not yet proven to be a problem

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - The City Council must decide how much to spend on a potentially deadly parasite in the Bull Run Reservoir.The fight over spending up to $500 million to treat Portland's water for a potentially fatal parasite is expected to heat up Tuesday at the first public hearing since the Oregon Health Authority has announced the city must now comply with federal requirements.

The Portland Utility Board, an advisory committee to the City Council on utility issues, will hold the hearing from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Juy 11 in Room C of the Portland Building, 1120 S.W. Fifth Ave.

The hearing will be the first time since the OHA announcement that the public will be able to testify on the decision the council must make by Aug. 11 — whether to spend $105 million to treat cryptosporidium by ultraviolet light or up to $500 million on a treatment plants that would also control a wider range of other contaminants.

Friends of the Reservoirs, a neighborhood-based group formed to protect the city's historic water supply system, has already come out against any additional treatment project. It argues that no one has ever been been proven to have been been sickened by drinking water from the Bull Run watershed, the primary source of Portland's water.

"We implore you to fight to avoid an unnecessary Bull Run treatment plant as it will provide no measurable public health benefit, create new public health and ecosystem risks, and make Portland's water even more unaffordable," the group wrote Mayor Ted Wheeler on June 14.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has adopted a rule that says large municipal water providers like Portland must treat their water for crypto, as the parasite is commonly called. Portland was granted a variance by OHA because water from the watershed has historically been so clean. But the variance requried the Portland Water Bureau to test for crypto — as the parasite is commonly called — which was repeatedly found in samples earlier this year.

Because of that, OHA is revoking the variance on Sept. 22. It is requiring the city to approve a treatment option and implementation schedule by Aug. 11. The council will hold its first hearing on the issue on Aug. 2.

During a June 27 council work session, Water Bureau Director Mike Stuhr discussed the added benefits of a filtration plant. Despite its higher cost, Stuhr said such a plant would increase the available supply of Bull Run water every year by filtering out sentiments that are historically stirred up in late summer. It would also filter out any new contaminants the EPA rules against, as well as mud or ash deposited in the Bull Run Reservoir by landslides or wildfires in the watershed.

"If I was made of money, I would build a filtration plant and I wouldn't think twice about it. It does so many things," Stuhr said.

After the July 11 hearing, the PUB will schedule a follow up hearing to adopt a recommendation to the council on the crypto treatment option.

To read the letter to Wheeler from the Friends group, go to here.

To read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue, go to