Outing Portland's 'hydro hogs'

Willamette Week's annual report on the biggest water users survives an effort to keep the names secret.
Willamette Week's annual report on the biggest water users survives an effort to keep the names secret.

All cities have favorite lists: Best of this or that; median prices for housing, best neighborhoods in which to remain thin, biggest rise or fall in school test scores. You know the ones.

Portland, however, trumps all of them with Willamette Week's annual Hydro Hogs edition. The alt-weekly's sixth annual H2O accounting rats out the top 10 water-users in the Portland water district and the nearby top 15 consumers governed by other water utilities.

The top city user is a household in which lawn sprinklers, pet dishes, showers, tea cups and bird baths somehow soaked up 1,044,956 gallons this past year, according to records. The biggie in the list of the outlying 15 used 1,734,612 gallons. (An average Portlander uses maybe 56,000 gallons a year, but it is not clear if store-bought lattes are factored in.) Willamette Week's list goes on, as usual, to be a soggy Who's Who of Portland business and philanthropic big hitters. There's an interesting little backstory to this round of Water Hogs coverage, as reported by Willamette Week reporters James Pitkin and Rachel Schiff:

In 2005, under pressure from some powerful Hydro Hogs from the past, the Legislature passed a law that took direct aim at Willamette Week's annual water survey. The bill allows water districts to keep secret the names of customers. A last-minute effort by state Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) retained the water users' addresses as public record. So now we get the addresses and, using tax records, identify the owners of the homes.

That wasn't the last close call on the hog beat. When a last-minute programming error in tabulations for the Portland Water Bureau meant that Willamette Week got an incomplete list of big users, the city's Office of Management and Finance employees advised of the mistake reportedly worked overtime to get an accurate list pulled together for the writers so they could make deadline.

Good move. Being the bureaucrats whose errors keep the local alt-weekly from getting public records would not be a career-enhancer in P-town, despite the likely gratitude of the 25 households named and photographed for the Willamette Week feature.


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