A federal regulation could raise local water bills and change the way Portland gets its drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency instituted a nationwide rule, which goes into effect in 2014, to guard against the nasty parasite, cryptosporidium. This waterborne pathogen sickened 403,000 and killed 104 in Milwaukee in 1993, but hasn’t caused any trouble for U.S. cities since then. The EPA regulation requires municipalities to treat or filter local water in specific ways to remove a minimum of 99 percent of cryptosporidium.
The City of Portland initially sued the federal agency over the treatment rule, arguing that Portland’s water, drawn from the pristine Bull Run watershed, is pure and clean already. The city lost the suit. This week commissioners voted unanimously to continue pursuing a variance to the EPA rule while, at the same time, making plans to treat Portland’s drinking water with ultraviolet light.
The fervor leading up to the council vote required city leaders to spend a lot of time quelling rumors and listening to passionate testimony about the issue. A local brewery was concerned that filtering the water could change the taste of their beer. At least one advocacy organization is urging citizens to call their congressional representatives to tell them they want to keep Bull Run the way it is.
Baker City, along with two cities in Maine, will be watching the ensuing fight between Portland and the EPA closely, and the outcome will affect their decisions about how to proceed when seeking a variance for their respective water sources.
Do you live in Portland or Baker City? How would changes to Bull Run water affect you? What do you think of your drinking water? Is it clean enough? Do you think it should be treated? If so, how? If not, why? Have you ever lived anywhere without clean drinking water? What did that experience teach you?
- Rob Manning: OPB reporter
- David Shaff: Administrator of the Portland Water Bureau
- Catherine Howells: Adjunct assistant professor at Portland State University