News Feature | April 29, 2014

Portland Voters Consider Water Utility Reform

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

votersreg

The process for raising water rates is a hot election issue in Portland. 

Voters are considering a ballot measure that would alter how utilities are overseen in Oregon's largest city. "If approved by voters May 20, the measure would create a Portland Public Water District with an elected, unpaid board of directors responsible for water, sewer and stormwater services," the Oregonian reported.

Big water consumers support the measure. That includes Siltronic Corp., a silicon wafer manufacturer. The company spent nearly $2 million on water bills during 2012, and nearly $1.5 million for sewer bills, according to a table compiled by the Oregonian.  

"More than any other commercial or residential customer, Siltronic stands to benefit the most financially from changes to water rates simply because of the company’s staggering consumption," the report said. 

Who opposes the measure? The campaign to change utility oversight also has high-profile adversaries, according to an opinion piece in the Oregonian. 

"According to the Secretary of State’s Office, as of April 7, 96 percent of the 'no' on Measure 26-156 campaign financing came from five entities — PacifiCorp (parent of Pacific Power), Portland General Electric, AFSCME Local 189, Depave and the Audubon Society of Portland. Put another way: two monopoly utilities, a Water Bureau union, and two sewer contractors," wrote Floy Jones, co-chief petitioner of the Portland Public Water District initiative.

What do those entities have in common?

"They benefit from Portland’s water-sewer status quo — big budgets, high rates, and spending on pet projects with little or nothing to do with the water and sewer systems," according to Jones. 

She said some of those entities have projects funded by ratepayers. 

Members of city council have promised to consider reform if residents allow them to maintain their utility oversight powers.

"If voters reject the May 20 ballot measure to create a Portland Public Water District – and leave rate-setting power with the City Council – then the City Council will form a task force to study new oversight options," the Oregonian reported in an earlier piece

For more on policy and politics, check out Water Online's Regulations and Legislation Solution Center

Image credit: "Last Minute Voters," © 2006 lancefisher, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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