4:12:12 Portland's Runaway Utility Bill

That the runaway utility bill in Portland, Oregon, would be one for water seems counterintuitive, if not perverse. I mean, why are Portland residents forking out $100+ monthly on these bills when the City is in the wet, wet Northwest?

My layman, but Portland Water Bureau customer's, understanding of the logic follows:

Up until the late 80s, Portland's total population was about 350,000. Then movers and shakers got the annexation bug. Unincorporated Mid-Multnomah County would come into the City, pushing our total population north of 500,000. A big one-time increase.

One of the complications of this was much of Mid-County had septic tanks. Not allowed in the City.

So at the time, mention was made of sizable assessments against individual home owners for City sewer hookups. Skeptic me wondered, Is a bit of upgrading for the whole sewer also implicit here? Guess who will pay for that? All of us.

Well, the story played out in its own sweet time and we Water Bureau customers were a bit in the dark (or didn't care) about what was on the Water Bureau's drawing boards.

Instead, over the next few years, our $20 monthly water bureau floated upwards, so to speak.

A few years back, however, the booster rocket on our water rates kicked in. No longer any pretense we were buying cheap water. The new arithmetic for our bills was that water usage gave a figure--say $27 a month--and now a multiplier applied. Wow! Multipliers of two, three, then four+ got us to  $100+ monthly bill.

So our water bill became cheap water, expensive sewer.

[the big pipe]

What are we paying for? The phrase given was the Big Pipe Project, completed last year, but many years to pay.

A total upgrade of our "aging" sewers to comply with State and EPA mandates: Heavy rain storms can't overload our sewer and dump raw sewage into Portland's Willamette River.

So counterintuitively, we Portland residents now pay and pay for this most plentiful resource in the Northwest: water, but it's really the excess, the rain runoff, we're paying for on the installment plan.

I'm inclined to see it as a high, but needed, cost of living in Portland, still not one of the more expensive cities in the world.

One that is--London--I visited few years ago. I remember watching local news on the telly in  the hotel room. One report told of the need to upgrade London's sewers and keep sewage out of the Thames River. A truly vintage sewer. All I could think was, Ouch! I wish Londoners well when those water bills float upwards!

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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

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