PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Following the controversy over lead levels in drinking water exceeding federal guidelines in local schools and public buildings, the Portland Water Bureau will ask the City Council on March 1 to begin a corrosion control treatment pilot to reduce customer exposure to lead in water.

The request follows a year-long water quality corrosion control study that resulted in the Portland Water Bureau recommending additional treatment to reduce lead in water levels at customer taps. The corrosion control treatment pilot is the first step in these improvements.

According to the bureau, the main objective of the corrosion control treatment pilot is to determine the most effective treatment improvements for our system. This is commonly done with treatment chemicals such as sodium carbonate and CO2.

“The corrosion control treatment pilot will evaluate corrosion control treatment methods with respect to both lead reduction and other criteria such as simultaneous compliance with other water quality regulations, compatibility with multiple sources of supply, impacts to sensitive and industrial users, discharge considerations, and cost,” says bureau spokeswoman Jaymee Cuti.

The current proposed schedule calls for the improved treatment to be in place within five-and-a-half years. The total estimated project cost is between $15 million and $20 million, and including the treatment pilot, design and construction costs.

“The details of the required facilities are not known at this time and will be based on the treatment recommendation from the pilot. Facilities to be constructed will likely include a new building to house chemical storage tanks, pumps, piping and associated equipment,” says Cuti.

Although the project is not anticipated to result in additional rate increases, the bureau cannot guarantee treatment will not change the character of the city’s water. Because of that, the bureau has been communicating with a variety of stakeholders, community groups and sensitive water users — including interested customers, manufacturers, bakeries, dialysis clinics, bottlers and breweries — to inform them of the potential changes. The potential impacts are not expected to significantly impact their routines and operations, the bureau says.

Portland’s drinking water comes from two high-quality sources — the Bull Run Watershed and Columbia South Shore Well Field. The source water meets or surpasses all federal and state drinking water standards. Lead in water exposure in Portland is from building and household plumbing and fixtures, not from lead in source water or the distribution system.

The reservoir in the Bull Run Watershed is currently offline following the discovering of a potentially deadly parasite in test samples. Bureau officials are consulting with state and county health officials to determine when its service can safely be restored

The bureau’s current lead reduction program, which includes partial corrosion treatment, has been in place since 1997. It complies with the federal Lead and Copper Rule and has reduced lead results in homes up to 70 percent. With changes to the water system, and an increased understanding of health risks associated with low-level exposure to lead, the bureau began re-evaluating the compliance program to determine if it can be improved.

You can read a bureau-prepared FAQ paper about the pending request here.

The bureau currently offers free test kits through the LeadLine or by calling 503-988-4000.

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