Portland gives up fight over reservoirs

PORTLAND — Portland is ending its fight over whether to cover reservoirs that hold much of the city's drinking water.

Since 2006, the federal government has been pushing a requirement that cities with unfiltered, open reservoirs cover their water supplies to reduce the risk from contaminants. Portland has repeatedly fought the rules and sought delays, saying the rule is expensive and unnecessary.

A last-ditch request for more time was denied last month, leading to Monday's announcement.

“Faced with no other legal options and with deadlines looming, the city will move forward to meet the compliance timeline,” the city said in a letter signed by Mayor Charlie Hales and three of the four city commissioners. Commissioner Amanda Fritz remained last the holdout.

The plan calls for reservoirs at Mount Tabor to be disconnected when new underground reservoirs at Kelly and Powell buttes are completed. That is projected to take effect by the end of 2015. At Washington Park, one reservoir will be decommissioned and the other renovated and covered.

“We are looking to the community to help us preserve these historic structures, and will conduct an inclusive public process to plan the future of our world-class parks,” the letter from the mayor's office and city commissioners said. “Recognizing the impact that compliance will have on rates, we will heighten scrutiny of all capital projects and contracts to keep rate increases as low as possible.”

Though the city's drinking water has a reputation for cleanliness, issues arising from the open reservoirs have cropped up from time to time.

In 2008, the city prematurely drained millions of gallons of water when someone threw latex paint into a reservoir at Mount Tabor. In 2011, again at Mount Tabor, a security camera caught a man urinating into the water and the city drained the 7.5 million-gallon reservoir at a cost of about $36,000.

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