City likely to get out of building costly water treatment system

PORTLAND, Ore. - The state of Oregon decided Tuesday it intends to let the city of Portland get out of building a $100 million water treatment system designed to protect its water supply from an intestinal parasite.

Tests conducted by the Portland Water Bureau haven't found Cryptosporidium, a microscopic bug that causes diarrhea, in the city's water supply. So the city decided it was not worth the cost to treat the water for the bug and asked the state for a variance June 6.

The federal government mandates the system to kill the parasite but allows states to grant variances.

"After thoughtfully, thoroughly and objectively examining the science available on the issue and on this particular watershed, we are satisfied that there is not, at this time, a need to treat the Bull Run source water for Cryptosporidium for public health reasons," said Oregon Office of Environmental Public Health administrator Gail Shibley in a statement.

But the variance will be allowed only if certain conditions are met, including constant monitoring of the Bull Run watershed. And if any Cryptosporidium is detected, the city must increase its monitoring and notify the state health department within 24 hours. Additionally, the state reserved the right to revoke the variance if the conditions aren't met.

The variance isn't a done deal. The state will hold a public hearing Dec. 14 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Portland State Office Building, 800 N.E. Oregon St., Room 1B, to field public input. It will also accept written comments through 5 p.m. Jan. 3, 2012.

Written comments can be sent to Oregon Health Authority-Public Health Division, Office of Environmental Public Health, Drinking Water Program, 800 N.E. Oregon St., Suite 640, Portland, OR 97232.

The state will make its final decision Jan. 31, 2012. The proposed variance is for 10 years.