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Portland Trying To Convince EPA That Bull Run Water Is Safe

The city of Portland has sent two messages recently to the federal Environmental Protection Agency in hopes of avoiding expensive changes to its municipal water system.

The feds are considering arguments for leaving the Bull Run watershed relatively unchanged. But as Rob Manning reports, the EPA plans to reject Portland’s plea to continue storing drinking water in open reservoirs. 

Portland leaders have said that they didn’t expect the EPA to allow the city’s open reservoirs to store drinking water, under the latest rules.

But under pressure from businesses and advocacy groups, City Commissioner Randy Leonard sent a letter two weeks ago, asking what the city would need to prove to keep the reservoirs.

Leonard referred questions about his letter to water bureau administrator, David Shaff.

David Shaff: “So what we want to do is get the definitive answer from the EPA, and then we will respond accordingly.”

The option of keeping the open reservoirs is apparently off the table, though, according to the EPA.

Marie Jennings: “That’s not an option. That’s not open for an exemption.”

Marie Jennings is EPA’s drinking water manager at the Seattle office. She says Portland should get the official word any day.

Now, the source for most of Portland’s water is Bull Run – a protected watershed in the Mount Hood National Forest.

The city has tried to convince the EPA that its water is so clean that it doesn’t need a treatment plant. But the EPA rejected the city’s first two testing regimes.

Now, the Portland Water Bureau has sent the feds a new monitoring plan with aspects that EPA specifically asked for – like identifying potential contamination “hot spots.”

The EPA’s Jennings says Portland’s task is simple.

Marie Jennings: “At the end of the actual monitoring, we want to see that their public has the same level of protection that all other surface water drinking water systems have, that are meeting the regulation.”

Jennings says if the city can prove that, Portland might get a variance from the requirement to build a treatment plant at Bull Run. But at least according to Jennings, there’s no avoiding a change to the historic reservoirs in Portland’s parks.

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