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UPDATE: Recommendations made after Multnomah County health officers also says filtration is the best choice, despite its higher cost

MULTNOMAH COUNTY - Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Paul LewisHow difficult is the decision over crypto treatment options facing the City Council?

On Wednesday the Portland Utility Board unanimously recommended the council ask the Oregon Health Authority for more time before having to choose between an ultraviolet or filtration treatment plant. But if the OHA won't go along, the PUB unanimously recommended the filtration plant, which is the most expensive option.

The OHA gave the council until Aug. 11 to make a decision after the potentially deadly parasite was repeatedly found in the Bull Run watershed earlier this year.

The council is scheduled to make a recommendation on Aug. 2. A UV pllant would cost $105 million, with $88 million paid for by raising water rates. A filtration plant would cost between $350 million and $500 million, with most of it paid for by raising rates.

The PUB was created to advise on such issues. The recommendation was made a few days after Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis has recommended the City Council approve the most expensive option for fighting the cryptosporidium parasite — a filtration plant — instead of one that kills with ultraviolet light.

In a July 18 letter to city Commissioner Nick Fish, who is in charge of the Portland Water Bureau, Lewis noted a filtration plant would solve many more potential problems, including mud from landslides and ash from wildfires.

The Bull Run Reservoir is the primary source of water for Portland and many surrounding suburban communities.

"Multnomah County urges the Portland City Council to consider the many health and resilience benefits of filtration over ultraviolet treatment as it makes decisions about improving water quality, while also helping the region respond to the threats of climate change and the risk of a major earthquake," Lewis wrote.

Lewis also cast doubt on the so-called hybrid option of building the UV plant first and the filtration plant later.

"A hybrid timeline — ultraviolet first, then filtration in 20-plus years — incurs substantial cost but provides no measurable health benefit and delays enhancements to make Portland and Multnomah County more resilient," Lewis wrote.

The Oregon Health Authority will revoke the variance it granted the city from meeting U.S. EPA rules for treating Bull Run water on Sept. 22. The variance was granted in 2012 because Bull Run water historically has been so clean, but it required the city to test for crypto, as the parasite is commonly called. Crypto repeatedly was detected earlier this year.

The Portland Business Alliance has written to say it supports the hybrid option, while a letter from the Craft Beer Alliance says it prefers a UV plant.

The letters are arriving as lower cost estimates for building either a UV or filtration plant are emerging. Ever since the OHA announcement, the Portland Water Bureau has said a UV plant would cost $105 million and a filtration plant would cost between $350 million and $500 million to build.

But both figures include about $17 million in upgrades at the Bull Run Reservoir that already have been approved by the council and covered by current water rates. The upgrades include an expanded chlorine treatment facility and a backup emergency generator.

Because of that, the additional cost of building a UV plant at the reservoir is actually $88 million. The actual cost of the filtration plant could be up to $22 million less than the current estimate, depending on whether additional upgrades are underway by then.

The City Council has approved $22 million in upgrades at the area known as the Headworks. Of that amount, $17 million would coincide with construction of the UV plant, if approved by the council at the Aug. 2 hearing.

The filtration plant would be built at another location that currently houses the Lusted Hill Treatment Plant in Southeast Portland. Construction would take longer to begin because, unlike the UV plant, it has not been designed and permitted yet. But the bureau says the Headworks upgrades would still be considered part of the project.

All options would require water rates to be raised. According to the bureau, a UV plant would raise rates as much as $3.01 a month by 2024. A filtration plant would raise rates as much as $18.14 a month in 2030. The hybrid option would raise rates as much as $7.54 by 2034, with additional increases required to complete it.

No increase is needed to cover the Headwaters upgrades already approved by the council.

Crypto is transmitted through animal feces. It can cause cryptosporidiosis, a respiratory and gastrointestinal illness, which killed 104 people and sickened thousands of others in 1993 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That outbreak prompted the EPA to adopt its treatment rule.

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