A federal safe drinking water rule that requires public water systems operating open water reservoirs to either cover their reservoirs or install additional treatment on the water discharged from the reservoirs is a significant issue in many cities across the United States. The rule may not be necessary for all public water systems and, as evidenced at a City Council hearing in Portland, Oregon this week, the rule’s necessity along with its big price tag generates a lot of controversy.

Background

On January 5, 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) promulgated the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT2 Rule) under its authority granted by the Safe Drinking Water Act. The LT2 Rule is a part of USEPA's efforts to protect the safety of the nation's drinking water following a Cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1993. The outbreak sickened hundreds of thousands of people and at least 104 deaths were attributed to the event. The LT2 Rule requires public water systems to monitor their raw water supply, and, based upon the data, install additional intake water treatment to ensure specific removal rates of Cryptosporidium and other pathogens. The LT2 rule also requires all water systems that operate open finished water reservoirs to either cover their reservoirs or install additional treatment on the water discharged from the reservoir.

Developments in Portland, Oregon

Many cities utilizing open reservoirs have had significant concerns with implementing the LT2 Rule, including New York, NY, Rochester, NY and Portland, Oregon. In the case of Portland, because of the protected nature and stringent controls on water supply, its water only requires minimal treatment prior to use. Portland has never experienced a Cryptosporidium outbreak, and testing has not detected this pathogen. However, because of the new rule, Portland may be required to install additional controls and cover its reservoirs at a cost estimated at $500 million.

Portland’s City Council held a hearing on May 18 to examine this issue, including a possible rate increase. Reed Smith, on behalf of a local coalition of water users in the Portland area, analyzed some of the key legal issues, including the possibility of obtaining a variance from treating or covering the reservoirs and extending the City's compliance schedule under the LT2 Rule, and testified at the hearing. Coverage can be found here.