The Portland Water Bureau (Portland, Oregon, USA) says it is improving its water treatment processes to help protect the health of nearly a million people who drink Bull Run water. In April 2022, the Water Bureau brought improved corrosion control treatment online at its Lusted Hill facility to further reduce potential levels of lead at customers’ taps.
According to the bureau, the upgraded treatment is expected to improve health outcomes by further reducing exposure to lead in water from home plumbing.
“The improved corrosion control treatment facility is our strongest tool yet to make drinking water safer for everyone, regardless of the plumbing inside their home, school, and building,” says Gabriel Solmer, water bureau director. “I am proud of our dedicated water quality and operations teams who have honored our commitment to the community.”
Lead in Plumbing
Water from the Bull Run Watershed, Portland’s primary source of drinking water, is naturally corrosive, the bureau explains. As such, lead in plumbing can be released when it is in contact with water.
Fortunately, there are very few sources of lead in Portland’s drinking water system, and lead-service lines were never used. In Portland, lead in water primarily comes from home plumbing, such as lead-based solder or faucets.
Even with the area’s existing corrosion control treatment that was in place since 1997, some homes still had high levels of lead at the tap, according to the bureau. Thus, the improved corrosion control treatment aims to further reduce lead levels in all buildings with lead in plumbing.
The improved treatment uses two naturally occurring substances—sodium carbonate and carbon dioxide—to increase the pH and alkalinity of Bull Run water. This makes it less corrosive to lead and other metals found in some home and building plumbing.
Households with plumbing and fixtures containing lead will especially benefit.
“I committed to being the last City Commissioner to tackle the harmful problem of lead exposure through drinking water,” says Mingus Mapps, water commissioner. “Improved corrosion control is a pivotal milestone toward achieving this goal.”
According to the bureau, the improved treatment program is delivering on the city’s equity goals by providing work opportunities for minorities and women in trades industries. In total, more than 11,000 hours were performed by minority and women apprentices and journey-level tradespeople, exceeding the city’s goal of 31% going into the project.
According to the city, the project budget was completed within budget and on time, allowing the bureau to meet a compliance agreement with federal and state safe drinking water regulations.
Portland also secured a low-cost Water Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Washington, DC, USA) to help finance the project and maintain water rate affordability for customers. This is the first of two significant investments in the future of Bull Run water by using low-cost federal financing in an effort to help keep rates affordable.
The second major investment is a new water filtration facility, which is designed to remove the microorganism Cryptosporidium and other potential contaminants from Bull Run water. Regulators are requiring this to be completed by 2027.
“All of us want to know that when we turn on the tap, the water that comes out will be safe for us and our families,” says Jeff Merkley, U.S. Senator from Oregon. “That's why I created the WIFIA program nine years ago, and why I'm so glad that the Portland Water Bureau is using the program to upgrade their treatment systems. These improvements will mean less exposure to lead from home plumbing for those who drink Bull Run water, paid for with WIFIA’s low-cost financing that won’t burden ratepayers. I look forward to seeing this project come to fruition.”
Source: Portland Water Bureau, www.portland.gov/water.