In June, the Water Bureau provided a worksession for the Portland City Council, giving us information on why the Bureau is recommending a direct filtration treatment plant, if administrative measures to avoid treating Bull Run water for cryptosporidium fail. The Water Bureau delivered a binder to each Council office last Monday, July 20, with answers to questions raised at the worksession in June.
Before, during, and immediately after the worksession, my main concern was cost. A direct filtration system is estimated to cost $385 million, while an Ultraviolet system would be $100 million. Both types of system are approved to treat cryptosporidium and other water quality contaminants.
The ratepayers of Portland will be paying for any treatment facilities, and my view was that if we don't really need to protect against cryptosporidium because it's not a significant issue in our protected watershed, let's go for the cheaper option. The Water Bureau countered by asserting a filtration plant will provide positive benefits, increasing storage capacity by allowing greater draw-down of the reservoirs in the summer and protecting the flow in the event of a catastrophic fire.
But the information given to Council last week says that we will still need to use groundwater in the summer once in four years, with a filtration system. It says we currently use groundwater once in three years. That's not much improvement, for $700 million (the cost of a $385 million system plus the interest on borrowing the money up front, according to the City's Office of Management and Finance). Further, when there was a fire in the Denver watershed, which has a filtration system, their water supply still had to be shut down.
At first, I accepted the assertion that an Ultraviolet (UV) plant would have no additional benefits, for $100 million plus bonding costs. When I studied the information given by the Water Bureau, it is clear UV has many additional water treatment actions, better than filtration. It kills living organisms like bacteria, algae and viruses, as well as cryptosporidium. It would meet regulatory requirements if the federal government decides we must treat for other problems, like E. coli, Hepatitis A, and respiratory viruses. And of course, shining UV light on our water would not add chemicals, would not change the taste, and would not require pumping and filtering our forest-to-faucet water.
See here for the comments I sent to my colleagues, the Monday before the hearing.
CONCLUSION: Based on my review of the information in the binder and for the reasons stated below, UV seems to be the better choice for treating Bull Run water, if we are unable to obtain relief in Congress/EPA.
* UV costs over $200 million less for construction
* UV treats more microorganisms, including E. coli which is next up for regulatory measures, and it is effective against viruses which filtration is not
* UV has lower carbon footprint due to need to truck and dispose of waste from filtration plant and use of pump power over gravity flow system in UV.
* UV has $800,000 lower annual O&M cost
* UV does not affect taste
* UV protects the "forest to faucet" branding
* The cost/benefit ratio of what filtration provides vs UV appears to indicate cost and effectiveness of filtration does not outweigh long term, operation, maintenance and effectiveness of a UV system.
I support the Resolution on Wednesday's Agenda, with the exception of its identification of filtration as the preferred option if we need to install more treatment. I plan to propose an amendment substituting "ultraviolet" for "filtration" as the backup treatment plan if we are unable to obtain a variance from the Environmental Protection Agency.