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By Janie Har May 5, 2012

Could City of Portland have saved itself the cost of building the $138 million Powell Butte reservoir?

Portland’s tap water is a big deal. We’ve had impassioned debates over covering the open reservoirs that hold our drinking water at Mount Tabor and at Washington Park, which are lovely to look at but considered unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency ordered the city to find a way to quit drinking from the uncovered reservoirs.  

In response, the Portland Water Bureau agreed to build underground water storage facilities elsewhere and to take open reservoir water offline. Asked about rising utility rates, Eileen Brady said she wouldn’t have spent money complying with the requirement:

"In the Water Bureau, I probably this year wouldn’t have worked to fund some of the projects that are going to invest in covering our reservoirs. For instance, the Powell Butte project that is going up. I think we started too early on that. We could have saved ourselves the cost."

Could we have saved ourselves the cost? This is the kind of statement that perturbs Water Bureau officials, who argue they had to prepare to comply.

The city was required to have an EPA-approved reservoir replacement timeline by April 1, 2009 (that’s in the rule). In May 2011, the council approved an $80 million contract with a California company to build the tank. (This 2008 letter makes clear that the EPA was bent on compliance.)

Brady, a longtime advocate of leaving Portland’s water alone, says she would have pushed to halt money for the Powell Butte project. After all, her campaign says, look at U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, who complained about the one-size-fits all nature of the mandate. The EPA agreed to review the rule.

But as we pointed out in a previous PolitiFact, Oregon is not New York and our pleas went nowhere.

Brady claims we could have saved ourselves the trouble. Maybe we could have, but that April 1, 2009, deadline was set in rule. Our federal delegation was getting nowhere with D.C. until Schumer complained. Her statement is wishful. We rate the statement False.

Our Sources

KGW/Oregonian Mayoral Debate, April 30, 2012
City of Portland, "An introduction to LT2" (website)
City of Portland, "Portland’s Legal Challenge," (website)
City of Portland, "Powell Butte Reservoir 2 Project," (website)
The Oregonian, "Portland leaders approve $80 million reservoir project over complaints from business groups," May 25, 2011
The Oregonian, "Portland seeks delay to complete all reservoir projects by 2026," Feb. 1, 2012
Interviews with David Shaff, Water Bureau administrator, May 2-3, 2012
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency letter to Portland Water Bureau, Feb. 11, 2008  
Oregon Wild, "History of LT2 Rule as it pertains to City of Portland," undated
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule, Section F1, Jan. 5, 2006
Email from Neel Pender, spokesman Brady campaign, May 4, 2012

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Could City of Portland have saved itself the cost of building the $138 million Powell Butte reservoir?

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