Portland voters have rejected a proposal to create a new water and sewer district not subject to city control. About 71 percent of voters opposed the measure, while 29 percent voted for it, according to unofficial results from Multnomah County.

As results came in Tuesday night, the measure's supporters gathered at Club 21, a Portland bar. Kent Craford, the activist who got the measure on the ballot, winced a little when the first vote counts came in. The measure was losing by more than a 2-to-1 margin.

"We've officially conceded," he later said.

The defeat means Portland City Council will keep control over the Bull Run Watershed and the city's sewer pipes, worth billions of dollars.

Craford said he will continue to advocate for lower water and sewer rates.

"Sometimes you need to have a big fight like this in order to bring the attention to the issues that you need to. And a lot of the revelations that came out through the course of this campaign would not have come to light were it not for this initiative."

A few miles away, City Commissioner Nick Fish was celebrating at a different election party. Fish is the commissioner in charge of the water and sewer utilities, and he put his own campaign money into the effort to defeat the measure.

"I think it's a real credit to the voters that they look really closely at this proposal," Fish said. "And when you look at the fine print it just wasn't the right proposal."

Fish said that while voters left water and sewers under city control, he knows they're frustrated with the bills they're paying. Portland's water and sewer rates have climbed by about 75 percent over the last decade.

Fish said he's committed to reforming the utilities. "That means stabilizing rates, strengthening accountability and transparency, and that means spending ratepayer dollars wisely."

And, he said, he will follow through on a promise to pull together a commission to look at ways to improve the utilities. The city will hold a hearing tomorrow on proposed water, sewer, and stormwater rates for the next year.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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