Who is Joe Glicker?

by whoisjoeglicker


Joe Glicker has been a driving force in the costly and unnecessary Portland reservoir burial scheme, funneling taxpayer money to multinational contractors for more than two decades.  This narrative is being developed to track Mr. Glicker’s longstanding alleged conflicts-of-interest with the Portland Water Bureau, Portland City Council, and multinational contractors MWH Global and CH2M Hill–leading up to the Summer 2013 crisis over the integrity of Portland’s Bull Run water system.

Joe Glicker and Lisa Obermeyer

  • Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s Joe Glicker was Public Policy Director and then Chief Engineer at the Portland Water Bureau.
  • At the same time Mr. Glicker’s wife, Lisa Obermeyer, was a principal engineer at MWH Global, a company that specializes in building large public works projects.
  • During Mr. Glicker’s tenure as a Portland Water Bureau official, his wife’s engineering company was the beneficiary of several large City of Portland contracts, including those for proposed reservoir coverage.
  • During Mr. Glicker’s tenure as a Portland Water Bureau official, he and has colleagues were sued in 1993 for defamation and harassment of water activist Douglas Larson, PhD.  Dr. Larson was awarded $73,000 in damages and received a public apology from the City of Portland.
  • In 1994 Mr. Glicker left the Portland Water Bureau to join his wife at MWH Global, where he took a senior position.
  • After Mr. Glicker joined MWH Global, City of Portland selection panels consisting of his former employees continued to award multi-million-dollar reservoir-related contracts to MWH Global.
  • These contracts were often no-bid, or funded without public input via “emergency” resolutions, passed by Portland City Council with a simple majority vote.
  • Current Mayor Charlie Hales was a City Commissioner throughout much of Mr. Glicker’s tenure at the Portland Water Bureau, including the period encompassing the Larson lawsuit.
  • Mayor Hales continues to work with Mr. Glicker and Ms. Obermeyer in their current high-ranking positions at CH2M Hill, where they continue to benefit from multi-million-dollar contracts with the City of Portland related to reservoir burial.
  • Mayor Hales and Commissioner Saltzman have both received multiple campaign contributions from CH2M Hill since at least spring 2010.

Portland Reservoir Coverage and Local Zoning Law

  • After Mr. Glicker moved to MWH Global circa 1994, Portland City Council was lobbied to cover and otherwise extensively modify Portland’s reservoirs.
  • This was problematic under Portland’s zoning laws, but Portland City Council nonetheless contracted with MWH to do the work.
  • Citizen activists fought this plan under Portland’s zoning laws, and in October 2003 Portland City Council publicly abandoned its plan to cover the reservoirs.

The Push to Change Federal Regulations

  • Around the time Mr. Glicker moved to MWH Global, federal regulations which protect drinking water were undergoing revisions, in response to the 1993 Cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  • Following the 1993 Cryptosporidium outbreak, cities like Portland, with open reservoirs, were allowed to retain those open reservoirs so long as they put health risk mitigation measures in place.
  • As the federal regulations continued to be revised, Portland City Hall sent Mr. Glicker, Ms. Obermeyer, and other of their MWH Global colleagues to Washington, DC, to serve as panelists and consultants with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in determining the content of the revised regulations.
  • During the period that Mr. Glicker and his MWH Global colleagues worked with the EPA, the revised drinking water regulation (“LT2”) began increasingly to mandate billion-dollar infrastructure building contracts, such as those sought by the marketing divisions of large engineering firms.
  • The new LT2 regulation also closely resembled the provisions of the City of Portland’s longstanding contracts with MWH Global.

Abuse of Due Process by City of Portland Officials

  • For more than a decade, Portland City Council continually awarded no-bid reservoir burial and treatment contracts to MWH Global and its subcontractors, obscuring the deals from public process by labeling and passing them as “emergency” measures.
  • Portland City Council continued this practice over the objections of its own Auditor, Gary Blackmer.
  • Portland City Council’s practices were sufficiently egregious that Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Marilyn Litzenberger enjoined them from such practices in an order dated October 27, 2004.
  • Citizens who objected to the City’s practices were shunted off into “review panels” that were stacked with “consultants” who were MWH Global subcontractors, and with “at-large citizens” who worked for the Portland Water Bureau and Portland Parks and Recreation Department.
  • When Mayor Hales’ Chief Financial Officer, Rich Goward, criticized the City of Portland for fiscal mismanagement of water funds, Mayor Hales eliminated Mr. Goward’s position, leading to public charges of whistleblower retaliation.
  • While claiming to “fight” LT2 on behalf of citizens, members of Portland City Council repeatedly instructed concerned citizens to ask the EPA for “variances,” even though the EPA had told Portland City Hall that “variances” were not available.

The Rush to Complete Lucrative Contract Work Before LT2 Is Reconsidered

  • In 2011 the EPA changed its stance on reservoir burial, in response to continued evidence challenging the scientific validity of the cover-or-treat requirement for open reservoirs.  The EPA stated that it would reconsider the reservoir burial requirement when it revised the regulation in 2016, and that meanwhile it would allow cities with open reservoirs to revise and delay their burial schedules.
  • While claiming to “fight” LT2 on behalf of citizens, members of Portland City Hall worked with MWH Global and its colleagues to rush reservoir burial before LT2 could be reconsidered, crafting a burial schedule that was more hasty than any other in the country–so hasty, in fact, that Portland Water Bureau’s own engineers published their concerns that safety equipment could not be adequately tested within the City’s rushed time frame; and Portland Water Bureau’s Administrator, David Shaff, warned the Oregon Health Authority that public health and safety would be endangered because the multiple simultaneously overlapping projects would interrupt supply and leave the City vulnerable in case of emergency.
  • While claiming to “fight” LT2 on behalf of citizens, Mayor Hales hired as his Chief of Staff the very same official who had aggressively fought to force the City to bury its reservoirs. Gail Shibley, as Administrator of the Oregon Health Authority, had worked alongside her subordinate David Leland, OHA’s Drinking Water Program Manager, to transfer LT2 enforcement authority from the EPA to OHA.  While at OHA, these two officials aggressively thwarted the legitimate efforts of water advocacy groups, concerned citizens, Oregon’s congressional delegation, and responsible members of City Council to obtain  for Portland the same LT2 burial schedule revisions that have been allowed by the EPA to other cities with open reservoirs.
  • While claiming to “fight” LT2 on behalf of citizens, Portland City Council has awarded additonal lucrative contracts related to the hasty reservoir burial project to engineering giant CH2M Hill, where Mr. Glicker is now Vice President and Ms. Obermeyer is Business Development Manager.
  • CH2M Hill has made multiple campaign contributions to Mayor Hales and Commissioner Saltzman since at least spring 2010.
  • While claiming to “fight” LT2 on behalf of citizens, Portland City Council has awarded additional lucrative contracts related to the hasty reservoir burial project to HDR Engineering, where Mayor Hales was Senior Vice President for the ten years immediately preceding his election to the Mayor’s office.
  • HDR Engineering has made multiple campaign contributions to Mayor Hales, Commissioner Saltzman and Governor Kitzhaber since at least spring 2010.
  • Governor Kitzhaber has never used his gubernatorial power to intervene with the OHA on behalf of Portland, despite the fact that the agency’s actions have ignited 4 years of protests from members of Portland City Council, Portland Water Bureau, Oregon’s congressional delegation, public interest groups, and private citizens.

The Threat to Portland’s Pristine Drinking Water

  • While it was concentrating on lobbying the EPA in favor of wasteful public-works contracts, Portland City Hall delayed simple, low-cost public health measures for the Bull Run water system such as the installation of safety shutoff valves.
  • Portland City Hall’s self-imposed hasty reservoir burial schedule has prevented timely validation of safety equipment.
  • Buried reservoirs have a known history of causing human deaths from Salmonella bacteria.
  • Buried reservoirs are not aerated, and thus incubate anaerobic bacteria indefinitely.
  • Buried water tanks allow radon to accumulate, and inhibit the breakdown of harmful disinfection byproducts.
  • In comparison, Portland’s open reservoirs have had no public health incidents in their 100+ years of operation.
  • Likewise, the open reservoir system in New York City has been free of public health incidents in its 100+ years of operation.  This is why New York City readily succeeded in obtaining the EPA’s promise to reconsider LT2 by 2016, and why the EPA has allowed New York City to stop working on reservoir burial in the meantime.
  • While publicly pledging to “fight” against reservoir burial, Portland City Council has buried, in its contracts with CH2M Hill, provisions that will blend pristine water from the protected Bull Run reservoirs with water from the Willamette River–which is tainted by sewage overflows, industrial pollution and storm water runoff–and with the Columbia River–which is subject to contamination from the Hanford Nuclear Test Site / Superfund site.  A “blending station” is currently under construction at Powell Butte.

At What Cost?

  • Estimated total cost of Portland’s “emergency” government contracts for reservoir burial issued to date:  $400 – $600 million.
  • Estimated total cost of Portland’s reservoir burial and blending station projects upon completion, including debt service:  In excess of $1.25 billion.
  • Demonstrated public health benefit from Portland’s reservoir burial project:  None.
  • Across-the-board cuts made to the rest of the City of Portland’s services as part of its recently passed “austerity” budget:  25%.
  • While the City of Portland rushes to bury its reservoirs, similar hastily completed underground storage and treatment facilities constructed by MWH Global pursuant to LT2 in Seattle have already cracked and required extensive, costly retrofitting, with an as-yet-undetermined life span.
  • While the City of Portland places the future of its pristine Bull Run drinking water in the hands of CH2M Hill, CH2M Hill has been found guilty by the US Department of Justice of criminal wrongdoing, due to conflicts-of-interest in its federal contracts to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Test Site.  The firm has been ordered to pay $18.5 million in restitution to US taxpayers in that case.


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