There is considerable confusion regarding Bull Run drinking water treatment decisions. We need an informed public discussion before decisions are made. The Portland City Council must not lock down on a specific treatment on Aug. 2. Otherwise, Portland residents will return from vacation shocked to learn that costly decisions about our world-class drinking water were made in a rush to judgment based on serious misconceptions.
The Oregonian got it wrong (ow.ly/fl2O30e2PeT) when stating that "early this year daily testing found evidence of cryptosporidium, a toxic bug." In fact, no cryptosporidium toxic to humans has ever been found in Bull Run water. Other species of crypto were found, none of which are known to cause disease in humans. In over 100 years, there has never been any disease connected with Bull Run drinking water. That's because we keep sources of toxic crypto — people and livestock — out of our protected watershed.
Oregon's robust crypto surveillance program has not shown any recent uptick in human crypto disease. There is no evidence of an "outbreak." It is more than likely that one wild animal in the Bull Run was the cause for recent detections of cryptosporidium. Crypto species from wild animals in the Bull Run do not cause human disease. Does this seem like a good reason to spend a half-billion dollars on a filtration plant?
Or should we spend $500 million on a filtration plant plus $100 million on a UV plant? The Water Bureau made this hasty recommendation last week.
It's incorrect to assume that filtration will "save" us from muddy water during heavy winter storms. Muddy water can overwhelm filtration systems, as evidenced by the disaster in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There, human sewage and cow waste replete with toxic crypto entered the filtration system during a heavy storm and people died. Filtration systems are routinely shut down during heavy rain to protect these systems from harm. Climate-related increases in rain present less of a threat to UV treatment. And remember that Portland's back-up groundwater supply increases the resilience of our water system.
An additional long-term effect of filtration must be considered. Once filtered, there will be pressure to open the Bull Run to human activity and development. Hard-won protections will be lost. Humans will bring in the type of crypto that is indeed toxic to humans. Human entry will exponentially increase the risk of fire.
Other concerns must be addressed. How will sky-high water rates impact low-income residents, communities of color and the elderly? How will the addition of chemicals impact home-grown businesses? How will options increase Portland's contribution to global warming?
Today we have an elegant, unique water system with a low-carbon footprint. We've prohibited sources of disease (humans and cows) in our watershed that can result in cryptosporidium pathogenic to humans. There is no public health emergency.
UV treatment (for which we've already made large planning expenditures) or water filtration will take five to 10 years, respectively, to build. It makes no sense to rush to a decision over whether to invest $105 million (UV) versus $500 million (filtration) versus over $600 million (both).
We deserve accurate, refined information and sufficient time to digest it. We must not be forced into a hasty decision that we may regret — and never forget.