Portland Residents Vote to Maintain Watershed Protection

The Bull Run River, before meeting the Sandy River

The Bull Run River, before meeting the Sandy River

The Sandy River Basin Watershed Council joined a broad coalition of groups interested in the environment, social justice, and sustainable economies to urge Portland residents to vote “no” on the May 20th primary ballot for measure 26-156. The ballot measure was defeated with over 70% of Portland voters choosing to maintain the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services within city control.  Below is our reasoning for supporting these crucial bureaus and their forward-thinking protections for watershed health and green infrastructure.

With no detail on how a water district would support crucial environmental commitments, the initiative risks protection of the Bull Run water supply, threatens key investments toward restoration in the Sandy, and could eliminate effective green infrastructure programs that keep polluted runoff out of the Willamette.

The initiative, supported only by large water users, would strip the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services from direct management by the city but gives no assurance to continue critical conservation programs in our region’s rivers. While claiming to answer concerns about rising rates, the ballot measure defines no mechanism to lower average customers’ water and sewer rates. The proposal creates inequitable representation on water issues, excluding East Portland residents and prohibiting people with experience in water management from serving on a proposed water district board. By risking the bureaus’ top bond rating, it would result in economic uncertainty for all Portland water consumers.

Bull Run Lake and Mt. Hood

Bull Run Lake and Mt. Hood

The ballot measure seeks to dismantle the current Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services, and transfer $15 billion worth of public infrastructure to a newly formed board whose members the measure would prohibit from having a background in water and sewer management.  A recent Portland City Club report dismissed the notion that this measure would lower rates by stating, “Rates will continue to be subjected to upward pressure regardless of the utilities’ governance structure”, and goes even further to suggest, “The measure is poorly structured and is likely to be subject to legal challenges.”

The Portland Water ballot measure risks the Portland community’s commitments to our exceptional rivers and our environment, including the Sandy Basin’s Bull Run watershed.   Backers of this ballot measure have sued the city of Portland over the use of green infrastructure that reduces storm water runoff, despite the fact that green infrastructure is highly efficient, cost-effective, and enhances community health along with reduction in combined sewer overflows into the Willamette River.

Reservior holding Portland's water

Portland’s water flows from the protected Bull Run basin

This ballot measure would leave 20% of Portland’s population without a vote, since East Portland would be excluded from the election of board members to the new governing body.  Local organizations representing the diverse interests of East Portland have also signed on to urge a “no” vote on this ballot measure.

Learn more about this issue and why it is critically important to our local economy and environmental health:

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