5-0: Portland City Council chooses filtration

Crypto is a potentially deadly parasite found in feces

The Bull Run Reservoir east of Portland (KOIN, file)
The Bull Run Reservoir east of Portland (KOIN, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland City Council has made its decision on how to treat cryptosporidium in the water supply, and it’s expensive.

All 5 council members voted to direct the Portland Water Bureau to begin working on building a filtration plant for the Bull Run Reservoir, the city’s primary water source.

Cryptosporidium is a potentially deadly parasite found in feces.

When it was found in small numbers in the Bull Run water supply this January, the Oregon Health Authority directed the city to find a way to fix the problem.

Out of 3 options considered, filtration is the priciest. But, it’s also perceived as the one most likely to effectively serve as a long-term solution.

The other 2 options were killing crypto with ultraviolet light, and building the UV system while also saving up money to install a filtration plant sometime in the future (the so-called “hybrid option”).

The unanimous council vote was in defiance of the Portland Water Bureau’s own recommendation, issued just last week, to go with that hybrid option.

While filtration is considered to be the most durable and thorough option, it could also cost as much as a half a billion dollars. Even conservative estimates say the city will have to dish out $385 million.

That means Portlanders could see dramatic increases on their water bills, though too many factors are at play to accurately estimate just how dramatic.

Portland currently has no system for treating cryptosporidium. That makes it the only place in the country where water is taken from surface-level sources (i.e. not underground) and passed on to consumers without treating it for crypto.

For a long time, that wasn’t a major problem, because Bull Run water is so high-quality and the watershed heavily protected.

But in December 2011, water monitors detected a lone crypto parasite for the first time since 2002. A federal EPA regulation created in 2006 mandates that crypto treatments be installed wherever an outbreak is possible. However, another federal law allows states to give certain bureaus an exception if the general water quality is outstanding.

After the 2011 detection, the Portland Water Bureau requested such an exception – or variance – from the Oregon Health Authority. OHA granted that variance in early 2012, citing the quality and protection of Bull Run.

The variance postponed requiring crypto treatment for 10 years. Bull Run water would be closely monitored over that time, and as long as no more crypto was found, Portland would not need to install an expensive treatment system.

But just this year, more crypto was found. Monitors detected parasites in January, then again, repeatedly, over the next 2 months. By May, the state had had enough, and OHA formally revoked the variance.

That meant the city needed to formulate a plan to treat crypto by August 11.

Originally, city council did not think they could make that deadline, and requested a 60-day extension, which was granted.

But late Wednesday afternoon, after lengthy testimony, the council approved moving forward with a filtration plan.

The extension time will now be used to work out the specifics of that filtration plan before presenting it to OHA.