Some folks are wondering why the Council is moving forward with planning the Filtration Project to build a facility to treat Bull Run Water, even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. The first reason is that we are required to do so. In 2017, the City reached a Compliance Agreement with the Oregon Health Authority on the mechanism and timeline to meet federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements. The project must be completed by 2027.
There have been questions about the Bull Run Filtration Projects and why filtration was chosen over ultraviolet (UV) treatment. As the region’s largest provider of drinking water, serving nearly one million Oregonians, the Portland Water Bureau takes the potential for drinking water contamination very seriously. As many people know, Cryptosporidium is a disease-causing microorganism and we are required to treat for it. While it is not dangerous for most healthy people even when present and active, Cryptosporidium can cause serious illness for people with compromised immune systems and other medical conditions. Ultraviolet treatment would indeed treat for Cryptosporidium, but that's all it does. There are no other water quality benefits. The Council chose to build the filtration system due to its multiple benefits.
This is the sequence of events that led to Council selecting filtration treatment as the preferred treatment option:
Filtration works by removing Cryptosporidium and other microorganisms from our drinking water. In addition, filtration will also remove sediment, organic material, and other potential contaminants, providing consistent high-quality drinking water and making the water system more reliable.
In 2019, following Council’s decision to move forward with the design of filtration, the Water Bureau completed extensive planning and engineering analysis to guide design of the new facility and identify treatment best-suited to filter Bull Run. These efforts are documented in the recently-released Draft Filtration Facility Overview, which serves as the bridge between the planning and design phases of the filtration facility project. This is a 333-page, clear manual addressing all aspects of the project. Chapter 1 provides a high-level overview of the project background and benefits.
It takes almost 10 years to build a treatment facility. We have a unique opportunity to take action now to reduce known risks and improve protection of public health. If anything were to happen while we wait for the ‘right time’, it would be too late to act. In addition, the cost to build new treatment facilities will only increase if the project is delayed.
The vote on financing at Council next week will be another significant step to maintaining affordability while making needed investments in our water system. The City submitted our application to EPA for a long-term low-cost supplemental loan from the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program to build the Bull Run Treatment Projects. This program was founded with leadership by Senator Jeff Merkley. Its purpose is both to build needed drinking water infrastructure, and to support jobs in construction. This will be especially important to put Oregonians back to work after the COVID-19 crisis abates. The WIFIA funding will provide approximately $350 million of debt service savings over the term of the loan. Repayments don't start until 2032, and extend over 35 years so future ratepayers will help pay from the improvements they will be benefitting from.
In summary, the EPA’s flexible loan terms and low-interest rates can significantly reduce ratepayer costs, while creating jobs by accelerating investment in needed infrastructure. We need the filtration plant now more than ever.