It doesn't even have to be a postcard

Arguing with strangers on the internet is bad for your health. But I think I need to follow up a bit on yesterday's post, in which I declared that the four-page glossy mailer recently sent out by the Portland City Hall water elves was totally unnecessary and a waste of money.

"It's required by the EPA!" So said the "Gotcha!" people, both here and on social media.

Well, no, that's not right. Something is required by the federal government, alright: The city has to prepare and distribute publicly a drinking water quality report. But it doesn't have to be mailed to anybody; it can be posted on the internet. And indeed, that is what the city has done. It used to send the customers the whole report, but now it just posts it on its website, here.

As you can see if you go there, the city has surrounded the report will a lot of color photos and graphics to serve as a sort of advertising. It isn't required to do that, although many cities do. In fact, some of the hype gets in the way of the content, which is what the EPA clearly doesn't want you to do. "Do not distract from your main message with graphics and/or pictures that do not complement your message."

Anyway, none of that is what I was I was writing about yesterday. What I was complaining about is what the city elected to send out in the snail mail. I posted half of it in the prior piece; here is the rest:

Now, when a community water system opts not to mail out its whole drinking water report, it has to alert its customers that the report has been posted, and where. The notification has to be "direct." And the EPA has said that robot phone calls won't do it. Maybe, contrary to my headline, an email might not suffice, but that much isn't clear.

What is clear is that it could have been a simple postcard. Indeed, it could have been a mere box added to the top of your water bill providing a link to the full report. Here's what the EPA said in a 2013 interpretation of its rules on the subject.

And so, anonymous commenters of the intertubes, you are wrong. The EPA does not require the city to mail out a four-page color ad with its notice of the report posting. It could have been done with a postcard, or simply a box printed prominently on your water bill, that said, simply and to the point:

Sorry, no translations available. I couldn't find a Klingon interpreter.


  1. PWB uses primarily one contractor made up of former water bureau employees. The whole bury the water in a big tank was not needed and it is already having issues with leaking (and possibly Radon). They delayed doing anything about rotting pipes for decades- I guess waiting until it cost 3 times as much.

    Luckily we've avoided putting industrial runoff Fluoride in our drinking water- now proven to be ineffective and bad for your brain. But that was not a PWB decision.

    1. I wouldn't be surprised if they just started doing it and let us all find out about it.

    2. You can check for fluoride in the water quality report. Problem solved!

  2. Totally agree that the empty, glossy mailer is unnecessary and that a simple postcard would be plenty adequate. Just want to point out that the box on the water bill would reach homeowners, but many renters are not billed directly by PWB, so not a one size fits all option. Renters still drink the water.

    1. I have no problem with sending a postcard to all postal customers. I don't think that is rerquired, however.


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