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August 1st, 2001 PHILIP DAWDY | News Stories
 

HYDRO HOGS

Which Portlanders use the most water?

     
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In 1992, Portland faced a drought. The Water Bureau begged Portlanders to conserve every precious drop of Bull Run's H2O. Watering lawns and washing cars was restricted. Water police cruised the streets, handing out warnings.

For a time, it felt as though Oregon were Arizona or--gasp!--California, states where water restrictions and droughts are part of the social fabric. But this, this was Portland, ecotopia, an urban rain forest where each year 40 inches of water slap down from the sky. It was almost unnatural for a drought to happen here.

This year, the unnatural almost happened again, the result of an unusually dry winter.

And then came April's rains. Without them, Portlanders would once again have had to stop watering their lawns and let their cars sit dirty in the streets.

Elsewhere in Oregon, people are facing severe water shortages. Detroit Lake, east of Salem, now resembles a puddle, and then there's that battle for irrigation water in Klamath Falls. To the north, Washington Gov. Gary Locke declared a statewide drought emergency earlier this year.

By comparison Portland is lucky. Turn on the tap and out comes sweet water from the Bull Run reservoirs, located in the western foothills of Mount Hood. Suitable for drinking and watering shrubbery.

Many Portlanders assume, perhaps, that since the water is always there it will always be there.

A number of environmentalists argue, however, that Portland's supply of water is not limitless. For one thing, the city is estimated to grow by 50,000 people in the next 20 years, straining our current water-storage capacity in the two Bull Run reservoirs. The most likely options will be either to chop down 400 acres of old-growth trees to build a third reservoir or to begin using the Willamette River as a source of drinking water.

Beyond the projected growth, since the late '90s the city of Portland has been under federal order to protect the habitat of salmon and steelhead in the Bull Run River, which is fed by the city's reservoirs. Protecting habitat means that the city has to release enough water into the river to maintain water temperature and depth conducive to the fishes' spawning patterns. To do that, the city's Water Bureau needs to keep adequate water supplies in its reservoirs so that it may release the right amount of water at the right time, especially in late summer and early fall when fish return to their spawning grounds.

The argument is simple, says Jim Middaugh, Endangered Species Act program manager for the city. More water in the reservoirs provides greater flexibility in optimizing flows in the Bull Run River. Increased water use in Portland limits the amount of water available for fish.

Fortunately, most Portlanders have become prudent about their water use. In 1991, the average Portlander used 85 gallons of water each day. Today, whether because of the installation of low-flow shower heads and toilets or conservative lawn watering, the average Portlander uses only 73 gallons each day, a 14-percent drop. (The average daily use in Tucson, Ariz., by contrast, is 160 gallons.)

But not all Portlanders are so conscientious. A review of Water Bureau records identified a number of households that, one could argue, use more than their fair share. The average household in Portland uses 146,000 gallons each year. The following hydro hogs used as much as 1 million gallons a year. TOP 15 HYDRO HOGS

HOW THE LIST WAS ASSEMBLED:

The following list comes from the Portland Water Bureau and covers consumption by households from July 1, 2000, to June 30, 2001. WW removed from the list households that developed large leaks in their water systems that spiked consumption for a period of time.

Few people in Portland are unaware that the Water Bureau has huge billing software problems, but WW has checked and rechecked the following accounts with the bureau.

This list includes only users in the city of Portland; there are undoubtedly households in Lake Oswego and Beaverton which, with larger properties, use even more water.

Similarly, it's not clear exactly why users appear on this list. It could be due to a pool, lawn irrigation systems, extensive landscaping--or a combination of all three.

1. MICHAEL AND SUSAN BURMEISTER-BROWN

Northwest Skyline Boulevard

Gallons used: 1,088,340

7.5 times the average household

The number of people who could take
eight-minute showers with this amount of water: 30,231

He developed Yahoo! instant messenger and was bought out by the company; she publishes Glimmer Train Stories, a quarterly collection of regional fiction. Michael returned WW's phone call and said, "This whole thing was a surprise to me." He thinks that a temporary irrigation system to water fir and birch trees is the culprit.


2. LEWIS SCOTT

Southwest Humphrey Boulevard

Gallons used: 909,568

6.2 times the average household

The number of toilet flushes you could make with this amount of water: 259,877

Scott is a lawyer associated with Lane Powell Spears Lubersky. He did not return our request for comment.


4. PETER KOHLER

Southwest Montgomery Drive

Gallons used: 856,460

5.9 times the average household

Number of baths you could take with this amount of water: 21,411

Dr. Kohler is president of OHSU. He did not return WW's requests for comment, but OHSU's PR department did, stating in an email to WW that it questioned the validity of the Water Bureau's data.


3. KATHY AND DONALD FROOM

Southwest 45th Avenue

Gallons used: 857,956

5.9 times the average household

The loads of laundry you could wash using a water-efficient washing machine with this amount of water: 142,993

Donald Froom is a nephrologist at St. Vincent's Hospital. Asked about their water usage, Kathy said, "The Water Bureau releases that information?" She declined further comment.


6. SCOTT THOMASON

Northwest Luray Circle

Gallons used: 826,540

5.7 times the average household

The number of days it would take to use this amount of water if you turned your kitchen faucet on full blast: 115

He owns a substantial chunk of
the Thomason Autogroup and, until recently, was one of the most visible faces in local advertising. Thomason returned WW's call and said he was baffled where his use might come from, as he only lives on one acre. He said he'd have someone check his pool and Jacuzzi for leaks.


5. TOM HOLCE

North Lotus Drive

Gallons used: 831,776

5.7 times the average household

The number of loads you could wash
with this amount of water using a water-efficient dishwasher: 332,710

Long a fixture in the Oregon business community, Holce now runs his own investment firm, Tom Holce Investments. He was unavailable for comment.


7. JORDAN SCHNITZER

Southwest Hessler Drive

Gallons used: 819,060

5.6 times the average household

The number of beer kegs this amount of water would fill: 52,843

The son of Harold and Arlene, Jordan is involved in real-estate development. He did not respond to WW's request for comment.


8. JOHN AND FRAN VON SCHLEGELL

Southwest Montgomery Drive

Gallons used: 813,076

5.6 times the average household

The number of bottles of wine this water would fill: 4,103,770

John is a co-founder of Endeavour Capital, a local investment firm. Fran admitted to feeling "like an idiot" when WW called. "I'm glad you brought it to my attention," she said.


9. FRANKLIN DRAKE

Southwest Scholls Ferry Road

Gallons used: 800,360

5.5 times the average
household

Number of queen-sized waterbeds you could fill with this amount of water: 4,002

Drake did not return WW's phone calls.


10. GEORGE O'LEARY

Northwest Monte Vista Terrace

Gallons used: 777,920

5.3 times the average household

Number of hot tubs you could fill with this amount of water: 1,944

WW was unable to contact O'Leary.

 

11. TOM KING

Northwest Skyview Drive

Gallons used: 749,496

5.1 times the average household

The area of land you could cover to the depth of one foot with this amount of water: 2.3 acres

WW was unable to contact King.


12. RALPH SHAW

Southwest Brentwood Drive

Gallons used: 712,844

4.9 times the average household

The number of 16-ounce latte cups you could fill with this amount of water: 5,702,752

Shaw, one of Oregon's leading venture capitalists, did not return WW's request for comment.


13. HERBERT SEMLER

Southwest Hamilton Street

Gallons used: 697,884

4.9 times the average household

Number of days you could run the drinking fountains downtown continuously with this amount of water--2.5 days

Semler did not respond to WW's request for comment.


14. JERRY REHBEIN

Southeast 174th Avenue

Gallons used: 684,420

4.7 times the average household

The number of hybrid cars you could scrub with this amount of water at a Kaady car wash: 22,814

WW was unable to contact Rehbein.


15. GREGG MILLER

Northeast Alameda Street

Gallons used: 656,744

4.5 times the average household

Number of times you could fill Salmon Street Fountain with this amount of water: 133

Miller did not respond to WW's request for comment.


Cash Flow

As do many cities, Portland has a three-tiered progressive rate structure for water. Based upon a water-industry standard known as one "unit," or 748 gallons, the Water Bureau charges $1.50 per unit for the first 36 units of water used during a three-month period; between 36 units and 2,046 units the price rises to $1.72 per unit; any units consumed above that cost $2.03 per unit.

The majority of users fall into the first two tiers. The third tier is specifically set up to make big water users pay through the nose or cut back on their usage. It is likely that during the summer months, some of the homes on our list fall into this third tier.

Some environmentalists contend that the city's rate structure isn't nearly
aggressive enough to encourage real conservation.

A tactic used by some cities is to raise third-tier pricing even higher during
summer months, when water use is at its peak.

For example, in Seattle the top rate paid by big users jumps from $2.85 per unit to $11.40 per unit during the summer.

City Commissioner Erik Sten, who oversees the beleaguered Water Bureau, says that last year plans were in the works to begin introducing high summer rates within a few years, but that those plans are now "indefinitely delayed," drowned by the bureau's infamous computer billing problem.
--PD

  OTHER NOTABLE HOSERS...

.A number of notable Portland citizens were not among the city's 15 largest users of water, but they were close.

Jeff Grayson
606,628
Unindicted investment juggler

Leonard Schnitzer
561,000
Part of Schnitzer clan

Howard Hedinger
563,992
Steel magnate and OMSI benefactor

Timothy Boyle
533,324
President/CEO of Columbia Sportwear

Sandra Mims Rowe
469,744
Editor, The Oregonian

Greg Goodman
445,060
Parking-lot monopolist

Ted & Dulcy Mahar
418,880
Lifestyle and Home & Garden writers, The Oregonian

 
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