Portland just started testing water for some bacteria

Credit: PortlandOregon.gov

Photo courtesy of City of Portland

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by Wayne Havrelly, KGW Staff

kgw.com

Posted on May 25, 2014 at 4:03 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 28 at 8:43 AM

PORTLAND -- Portlanders have long bragged about the city's good-tasting water. 

"We have the best water in the country and these things will happen no matter what precautions you take," said Southeast Portland resident Rebecca Lexa.

Before 2009, boil orders never happened in Portland. But in the past five years, the city has has three of them.

Water bureau: Animal waste caused boil alert

So why does Portland's water supply appear to be having water quality issues now? 

"Well, the rules have changed," said Portland Water Bureau Director David Shaff. "There is something called the total coliform rule that came out in the '90s."

Before that rule change, the city never tested for those types of bacteria. That likely explains why these boil alerts never used to happen.

Shaff believes the water is as clean as it ever was, it's just more tightly regulated by the state and federal governments.

For years, Portland fought federal regulations requiring the city to replace its historic uncovered water system.

The reservoirs may be beautiful, but they also expose water to the elements and animals.

"It's part of what makes Portland, Portland," said Mt. Tabor resident Tom Morgan. "I just hate to see our reservoirs go."

But they're going. Mt Tabor's two remaining reservoirs are supposed to be disconnected by the end of 2015, replaced by a massive underground project at Powell Butte.

City OKs plan to cover open-air reservoirs 

However, the project has faced delays.

Washington Park's open reservoir will eventually be replaced with a reservoir tank, covered by a water feature for aesthetics.

By 2020, Portland's entire system must be covered.

So will a closed system prevent future boil alerts?

"It can still happen," said Shaff.

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