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Mt. Tabor Reservoir Independent Review Panel

The following press release was issued by Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office on December 23, 2003.

Saltzman Announces Reservoir Independent Review Panel Nominees

13 Member Panel Will Evaluate Options to Address Security and Regulatory Requirements of Mt. Tabor Open Drinking Water Reservoirs

Portland, OR-Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman today announced the nominees for the Independent Review Panel that will re-examine the City Council's decision to bury the Mt. Tabor open drinking water reservoirs. The decision to appoint an independent panel, was announced by Saltzman December 9th. The panel will convene early next year to review and evaluate the options available to Portland and cities nationwide to comply with pending federal drinking water regulations and address the public safety issues of open drinking water reservoirs.

"Two-thirds of the City gets its drinking water directly from reservoirs which are wide open to contamination both incidental and intentional," said Dan Saltzman, Commissioner-in-Charge of the Portland Water Bureau. "I still believe the City Council's May 2002 decision to bury was a good one-I hope this process will either reinforce that decision or provide Council with clear direction for why it should pursue another viable approach."

Saltzman has worked over the past two weeks to assemble the nominees (attached below). A principal criterion for serving has been that the members be capable of independent, impartial analysis and have no existing position on either the City's existing burial approach or any of the other options for addressing security needs and pending drinking water requirements. The end result in Saltzman's eye is a panel with a broad range of technical and financial expertise and community experience.

City Council will consider the review panel nominees in a resolution establishing the proposed process and schedule early next month.


Saltzman has charged the panel to review and evaluate the technical merits, cost-benefits, and community impacts of options for addressing the public health and security issues of Portland's century old Mt. Tabor open drinking water reservoirs. The panel will be asked to consider and factor in the infrastructure needs of these aging facilities, security issues raised in vulnerability studies performed on the Portland water system and the City's required response to pending federal drinking water regulations.

Any of the options being considered would achieve two essential requirements for the City: increased security of the City's exposed drinking water supply, and compliance with pending federal regulations which will require the City to take some form of action to address the public health risks associated with exposed drinking water storage. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established how water systems, like Portland's, with open finished drinking water reservoirs must comply with the new rule. Agencies must cover the open reservoirs, install water treatment facilities to inactivate viral contaminants in the water before it flows to City taps or enact a risk mitigation plan sufficient to address physical access to and contamination of the exposed drinking water (see section 4.3.a of the rule posted at www.epa.gov/OGWDW/mdbp/st2aip.html).

As a result, Saltzman is asking the review panel to examine five options to satisfy the security and regulatory needs of the City:

  1. Covering the reservoirs and making park improvements above them (the current City proposal),
  2. Covering the reservoirs without making park improvements (possible concrete or grass surface),
  3. Installing water treatment facilities where drinking water exits the reservoir outlets,
  4. Taking the reservoirs offline and retiring them from use, and
  5. Enacting specific risk mitigation plans that will address physical access, surface water runoff and contamination risks to the reservoirs (as per the pending EPA rule language) as well as security issues raised in vulnerability assessments.

The panel will produce a report to City Council regarding its findings.

A subset of the Independent Review Panel will serve as a selection committee to choose a facilitator and an independent technical advisor to report directly to the group and assist it in its work. The panel will have 12 weeks from the time of its first meeting to complete its review of options and produce a report to Council. The City Council will then either confirm its original decision or choose a new approach to address the public safety and regulatory requirements of the Mt. Tabor open reservoirs.

During the review process, the Water Bureau will postpone work on the reservoir burial project at Mt. Tabor although some pipe replacement work that is currently scheduled, but unrelated to burial, will continue. Should the City Council choose a different approach as a result of the review panel process, the new approach will be implemented as soon as possible beginning next year.

Work to prepare the Washington Park Reservoirs for temporary covers, which will satisfy the security and regulatory requirements at these sites for the interim, is already half completed and will continue although installation of the temporary covers themselves will not begin until next Spring. A Council decision confirming the permanent approach for addressing the open reservoirs in Washington Park is still 5 to 7 years away. Saltzman anticipates that the review panel process will play a significant role in that Council decision when it comes, noting, "I can't predict what a future Council will decide but if this process helps produce a clear direction for Mt. Tabor I would think it will send a pretty strong message to the decision makers who will need to complete this effort at Washington Park. In the meantime we will have the minimum health and safety requirements addressed at those sites."