House panel to EPA: Go easy on Bend water rules

Urges flexibility on cities' water-quality standards

The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee is directing the Environmental Protection Agency to provide cities with flexibility in implementing a surface-water treatment role, a prime reason for a major, controversial water project in Bend.

"The EPA's inflexibility on an arbitrary deadline has stuck the city of Bend and its citizens with a $30 million bill," Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said Monday.

"Forcing the city to raise water rates in a time of double-digit unemployment sure won't help us grow jobs," Walden said.

"So far, the EPA and the state of Oregon have refused to grant Bend the same flexibility granted to New York City and Portland," the congressman said. "If the EPA won't act on its own, the House Appropriations Committee will direct it to provide communities such as Bend with the needed relief."

Bend is facing an estimated $68 million bill for improvements to its surface water system -- $30 million of which is specifically tied to an October 2014 deadline for compliance with the Long Term 2 Surface Water Treatment (LT2) rule.

In January, Walden wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to urge her to allow Bend to negotiate with state authorities regarding LT2 open source drinking water treatment compliance deadlines, to provide more time and flexibility and to take into account the city's financial hardships and project management limitations.

He said such flexibility would allow Bend to sequence compliance in a way that avoids burdensome impacts to the community while protecting public health and safety.

The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee is tasked with providing funding and oversight for the EPA. In March, Walden wrote to leaders of that subcommittee to ask them to direct the EPA to provide communities like Bend with flexibility on the LT2 rule. The subcommittee included Walden's request in legislation moving forward in the House.

"This is good news for Bend ratepayers," said Bend Mayor Jeff Eager. "One of the most influential committees in Congress has told the EPA and the state of Oregon to work with communities like Bend to introduce more flexibility to the enforcement of the LT2 rule.

"Congressman Greg Walden deserves a great deal of credit for taking this issue on and asking the Appropriations Committee for help," Eager said in a city news release. "Bend will continue to work with Congressman Walden, Oregon's senators, the state of Oregon, and the EPA to keep water rates as low as possible while providing award-winning, safe drinking water."

Last March, the City Council passed a resolution asking our congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Walden and the EPA, to extend the city's deadline for compliance with the LT2 rule and delay construction of a water treatment plant. This has the potential to reduce water rate increases in the near-term.

The resolution also approved a new project approach in an effort to minimize upfront costs while moving forward with plans to improve the City's dual-source water supply. This approach prioritizes the replacement of the aging pipelines and intake facility while postponing less critical project elements like the hydroelectric facility to allow for further evaluation.

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