5:31:14 Portland's Water Woes, Again

I've written about Portland's water utility problems before. Although we are one of the country's wetter cities, we have runaway water bills, close to tops for the nation. Not that our water itself is expensive. The problem is our sewer bill combines with our water bill and is a growing multiple of our metered water charges.

Our sewers were inadequate for some time, excess storm runoff spilled untreated sewage into the Willamette River. The State and EPA mandated this be fixed and our Big Pipe project is one we'll pay for and pay for.

[water bureau logo]

With our water/sewer bill jumping in recent years, journalists and other watchdogs went looking for waste in the City of Portland's Water Bureau. They hit pay dirt: pet projects only tangentially related to the mission of the Water Bureau. Enough people saw red--and rightly so--a measure to take the Water Bureau away from the City and set up a independent water district went on May's ballot.

The measure was something I could and did vote for, thinking that the City of Eugene has done fine with an independent water district and what we have now could not be worse.

Well, the measure lost handily, 2-1. The anti's told me they didn't want corporate customers getting lower rates and sticking us with the bill. Or so the story was in the run-up to the election. All's fair in love and war and politics and that story must've done the trick, playing well in a city, where the word corporation is just shy of an obscenity.

So post-election, the Water Bureau supporters must have been feeling pretty good, business as usual.

But the week following this Water Bureau victory, the unthinkable happened.

The Water Bureau, with its landslide show of support still fresh, was reason for a news conference at City Hall.

E. coli was found in our water. Three times in days. An immediate boil water alert took effect until further notice. Our tap water, which the Water Bureau promotes on its website as "From forest to faucet, we deliver the best drinking water in the world" just might be a reason you end up in the hospital. 570,000 customers were affected.

A buying panic of all bottled water in stores came next. More eerily, Portland's many coffee shops shut down early for the day. Restaurants suffered.

Fortunately, the alert was lifted within 24 hours and life went back to normal.

For myself, in the explanations that followed, I was personally grateful to learn our water supply is sampled and tested 240 times a month. Now that is Water Bureau money well spent!

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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:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

Also, a flash fiction, "Ylena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.

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