UPDATE, 12:52 pm Friday, Jan. 17: The water district campaign is delaying turning in its signatures until Tuesday, Jan. 21, saying it didn't realize it couldn't submit additional signatures after the first batch.

"We just found out that no additional signatures will be accepted after we turn in," says co-petitioner Kent Craford, "and we still have some sheets out there. So we're going to wait until the last minute."

ORIGINAL POST, 3 pm Tuesday, Jan. 14: The ballot-initiative campaign to remove control of Portland's water and sewer bureaus from City Hall will turn in 50,000 signatures to city elections officials Friday.

"It'll make the ballot," says Kent Craford, co-petitioner on the initiative to create an independently elected Portland Public Water District. "Portland ratepayers will see a spotlight on the management of water and sewer utilities like none they've ever seen."

The campaign needs nearly 30,000 validated signatures to place the initiative on the May ballot. The Portland Tribune first reported this morning that the campaign is ready to submit its collected signatures.

Those John Hancocks were not collected without some controversy: State elections officials warned signature gatherers in October to stop claiming the initiative would stop the city from selling its water supply to Nestle Corp.

The initiative campaign has also drawn scrutiny for its financial backing. Most of its funding comes from two companies with big water bills, Portland Bottling and Siltronic.

"This is basically a case of a very small group of corporate interests buying their way onto the ballot," says Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland. "This is the antithesis of a grassroots effort and a huge coalition of grassroots environmental and community groups has come out in opposition."

But Craford says the successful collection of signatures shows voters want city utility spending reined in.

"I think we've become desensitized to soft corruption," Craford says. "But it doesn't have to be that way. There's a market for reform."