Bark's Opposition to Water District Initiative 26-156

Bark, along with many conservation allies, opposes a ballot initiative that would transfer Bureau of Environmental Services and the Portland Water Bureau from the Portland City Council to an independent public utility board.


A proposed ballot initiative to be voted on by Portlanders in May, 2014, would take control of the Bureau of Environmental Services and the Portland Water Bureau from the Portland City Council and transfer them to an independent public utility board. Bark, along with many conservation allies, has taken a position opposing the Portland Public Water District initiative.

Below is a position statement of environmental organizations explaining why we believe this proposal would reduce transparency and degrade crucial environmental services.

As the lead organization monitoring land use in Mt. Hood National Forest (location of the Bull Run Watershed, Portland’s drinking water source), we do not see this initiative as in the best interest of the forest within and surrounding the Bull Run Management Unit. The initiative is supported heavily by industry, including the former head of the Louisiana-Pacific Lumber Corporation. We ask you not to support this misguided proposal.

Statement from Portland Conservation and Environmental Justice Advocates Opposing Water-Sewer Initiative:

As Portland area conservation and environmental justice advocates with long histories of both challenging and collaborating with the city to protect our natural resources and communities, we want to express our strong and unequivocal opposition to the recently proposed water-sewer commission initiative. The initiative would take control of the Bureau of Environmental Services and the Water Bureau from the Portland City Council and transfer them to an obscure board that will have less transparency and less accountability. This effort masquerades as a populist movement but is in fact a Trojan horse backed by industrial water users designed to lower their costs and defund the City’s most important environmental programs. We strongly urge residents of Portland to not sign the petitions and to oppose this misguided initiative.

This effort will reduce accountability and transparency: Residents of Portland may not always agree with the decisions made by the Portland City Council, but the public is able to track and weigh in on important decisions through regular public hearings, strong disclosure rules, an extensive budget process, and ultimately through elections. Recent budget hearings attended by hundreds of people stand as a case in point. Special district boards by comparison are typically much more obscure, remote and faceless. Few people track the activities of special district boards, they receive virtually no media coverage, they meet relatively infrequently, and they are typically not included in media endorsement pages or in watchdog group scorecards. Creating a special district to run our public utilities is a recipe for takeover by special interests and less transparency and public oversight than exists today.

This effort will undermine Portland’s most important environmental programs: This effort is backed by the industrial Water Users Coalition, a lobbying group supported by some of Portland’s biggest and wealthiest industrial interests and it is being funded by a right wing Oregon fundraising machine. This groups includes some of Portland’s biggest polluters and many of these groups have worked in the past to roll back Portland’s environmental protections. Their current lawsuit against the City of Portland directly attacks the City’s core environmental programs such as watershed restoration and protection of our most important natural areas. It is disappointing that in their laudable efforts to protect Portland’s reservoirs, some Mt Tabor reservoir advocates have aligned themselves with some of Portland’s least civic-minded industries which seek to roll back years of environmental progress in Portland.

Attacks on Portland Bureau of Environmental Services are misguided: Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services has been doing an outstanding job for Portland. It recently completed “the big pipe,” the largest public works project in Portland history, on time and on budget. That project, which has removed raw sewage from our rivers, has resulted in higher rates. However, many U.S. cities that waited to address their combined sewer systems are now being forced to begin projects that will cost far more than Portland’s project. Portland’s effort was proactive, well managed and cost effective, and as a result, our river is far healthier today than it was a decade ago. At the same time, Portland has been leading the country in converting from pipe-based stormwater strategies to greener strategies such as planting trees, building greenstreets and protecting flood areas and stream corridors to address urban stormwater. These efforts have improved our environment, created jobs, increased neighborhood livability and saved the city tens of millions of dollars. Communities from all over the world are traveling to Portland to learn about the successes of our green stormwater strategies –something the main proponents of this district initiative would like to see abandoned.

We want accountability and transparency and we also want to see the City build upon, not abandon, its most important environmental programs. That is why we strongly oppose any effort to transfer our public utilities to an obscure board backed by big industrial interests.

Groups Opposing the Water District Initiative

Audubon Society of Portland
Oregon Wild
East Portland Action Plan
League of Women Voters of Portland
Sierra Club Columbia Group Executive Committee (Represents Portland Metro Region)
Willamette Riverkeeper
WaterWatch of Oregon
Onward Oregon
Lents Neighborhood Association
Friends of Trees
Trust for Public Land
Northwest Environmental Advocates
Coalition for a Livable Future
Urban Greenspaces Institute
Oregon Environmental Council
Oregon League of Conservation Voters
Sandy River Basin Watershed Council
Coalition of Communities of Color
OPAL Environmental Justice
Food and Water Watch
Friends of Gateway Green
Zenger Farm
Portland Firefighters Association
Oregon Consumer League
Oregon State Council for Retired Citizens
Climate Solutions
Northwest Biocarbon Initiative
Fight Church
Friends of Baltimore Woods
Hayden Island Livability Project
Oregon AFL-CIO
LIUNA (Laborers) Local 483
Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC)
AFSCME local #328
AFSCME local 3336
AFSCME local 88-Multnomah County
AFSCME local 3580-Metro
AFSCME Local 189
PTE Local 17 – City of Portland
DCTU City of Portland (District Council of Trade Unions)
Portland Solidarity Network (advocates for the rights of workers and tenants)
Common Cause of Oregon
Democratic Party of Multnomah County
Oregon Progressive Party
Oregon Nurses Association
Portland Police Association
Oregon State Council for Retired Citizens
Elders in Action
Jobs with Justice
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48
Tryon Creek Watershed Council

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