This morning, the city of Portland issued a boil water notice for 670,000 customers of the Portland Water Bureau after finding traces of E. Coli in two of Mt. Tabor’s open-air reservoirs. This is significant in light of the city’s controversial move towards covering the reservoirs. Would this E. Coli incident have happened if the city had discontinued its open-air reservoirs over 6 years ago when the federal mandate to do so was issued?
Portland is currently in the process of shutting down the use of the open-air reservoirs on Mt. Tabor and is constructing new covered reservoirs at Powell Butte and Kelly Butte to comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The actual rule, called the the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule or LT2, “affects uncovered finished drinking water reservoirs by requiring that water systems either cover the reservoirs or provide treatment at the outlets of the reservoirs to remove or inactivate 99% (2 log) of the Cryptosporidium protozoa, 99.9% (3 log) Giardia bacteria and 99.99% (4 log) of viruses,” according to the City of Portland website. The purpose of this rule is to “reduce disease incidence associated with Cryptosporidium and other disease-causing microorganisms in drinking water”.
Portland has fought LT2 ever since its inception. In 2006, the city appealed the EPA rule in federal court and lost. In 2009, the city sought EPA guidance on how to obtain a variance, and was told no variance was possible. When the EPA later moved regulatory oversight to the Oregon Health Authority, the city again asked for a variance and was turned down. In 2011, the city asked the state if a variance was possible and was told it was not. Later in 2011, the city asked the state to suspend enforcement of the provision until federal regulatory review was completed, and was turned down. And as recently as 2012 and again in 2013, the city asked the state for a delay. The city was turned down each time. Portland has finally agreed to disconnect the uncovered reservoirs from the municipal drinking water system by December 31, 2015 to comply with the EPA’s mandate.
The city fought having to comply with LT2 for all these years citing a “unique water source” that was self-filtering and did not have a trace of the Cryptosporidium protozoa. “The water of the Bull Run Watershed that supplies Portland’s residents with water is naturally caught and filtered. Recently, extensive testing took place and there was not a single instance of Cryptosporidium detected,” says Kavita Jain-Cocks of State of the Planet. City residents have also been fighting LT2 fearing ever-rising water rates. Residents have put up a fight against LT2 compliance saying it’s ridiculous for the city to undergo a $3.9 million water safety improvement plan when in reality, there is nothing wrong with the safety of their water.
But this E. Coli boil water notice may change the mind of some of residents. Granted, the actual danger of getting sick from this bacteria is “very low” according to Multnomah County health director Dr. Paul Lewis.Tags: 2014, boil water notice, LT2, mt. tabor open-air reservoirs, portland, uncovered reservoirs