As Portland Races For Water Parasite Treatment, Public Utility Board Hits Brakes

By Ericka Cruz Guevarra (OPB)
July 18, 2017 10:14 p.m.
Water Board Commissioner Nick Fish speaks at a Public Utility Board meeting on Tuesday July 18, 2017.

Water Board Commissioner Nick Fish speaks at a Public Utility Board meeting on Tuesday July 18, 2017.

Cass Ray / OPB

Some members of Portland’s Public Utility Board say they need more information, time and public input before deciding whether ratepayers are better served by a new water filtration plant, an ultraviolet light facility or a hybrid of the two.


In what was supposed to be the board's final meeting before deciding on what they would recommend to the Portland Water Bureau, PUB unanimously voted Tuesday to meet again July 25.

PUB is tasked with providing citizen oversight and recommendations for how the city would comply with a federal rule that requires Portland to treat its drinking water for the parasite cryptosporidium.

The Portland City Council is scheduled to vote Aug. 2 on whether to build a $105 million ultraviolet light treatment plant or a water treatment facility that could cost anywhere between $350 million and $500 million.


Concerns over a deadline extension were raised after the Water Bureau's commissioner-in-charge Nick Fish asked the board to come up with a written recommendation soon.

Fish said he believed the board had enough information to make a reasonable decision.

But some voting members disagreed, arguing a project of this caliber requires more time and analysis.

Other members said the board needs to think twice before deciding on whether to ask for more time.

"I think even if we're given another month or two, that asymmetry is still going to exist between UV and filtration," said board member Ted Labbe. "I think this board needs to get comfortable with uncertainty."

Fish cautioned the board on asking for more time to decide, saying they could be forfeiting an opportunity to have their input considered.

“My only fear on the fourth option is that if that is the consensus with PUB, and the Oregon Health Authority refuses to extend the clock, you would be taking yourself out of the game,” said Fish. “And you would have to weigh that against not having a voice in the decision-making.”