Recent Water Projects
January 17, 2017
Working with our partners at Northwest Environmental Advocates, NEDC has been pushing Oregon DEQ to improve the current Clean Water Act general permit regulating pesticide discharges. We submitted comments noting several distinct flaws with the permit that must be addressed before DEQ can continue to authorize these potentially harmful practices. In short, DEQ must ensure that the permit results in meaningful protections for Oregon’s waters. To accomplish this, DEQ must add specific terms and conditions to the permit limiting and controlling the use of pesticides near surface waters that will result in compliance with established water quality standards, help restore already degraded waters, and protect the most sensitive uses of those waters, including threatened and endangered species. In addition, DEQ must require potential permittees to register for the permit (a basic requirement that is notably lacking for the current iteration), and prepare clear and specific management plans that describe how the applicators will comply the permit’s conditions.
Right Below Our Feet- Underground Injection Controls
NEDC has continued its focus this year on protecting groundwater. Throughout Oregon, municipalities and industrial facilities regularly use drywells, also known as underground injection controls or UICs for short, to manage polluted wastewater or stormwater. Sometimes, directing stormwater underground rather than discharging it to surface waters can be an effective management option. However, improperly managed UICs pose serious threats to the environment and human health, as these discharges have the potential to contaminate groundwater sources, which are or may become sources of drinking water.. Potential groundwater contaminants include heavy metals, toxic organics, nutrients, pesticides, salts, and microorganisms, such as E. Coli.
As a result, the issuance of UIC permits, as required under the Safe Drinking Water Act, presents an important opportunity to achieve real protections for groundwater. To achieve this goal, Oregon DEQ must design and issue permits that comply with the underlying state and federal regulations and are protective of Oregon’s groundwater. Regrettably, recently proposed and issued permits have fallen short in many respects. From failing to require to the use of reasonable management practices to reduce or eliminate the discharge of pollutants to groundwater, to failing to issue lawful permits to each facility that must be regulated, DEQ has continued its history of failing to take seriously its responsibility to regulate discharges to groundwater.
NEDC has been working for years to put DEQ on the right track. That work will continue as the agency continues to work through the significant backlog of unpermitted and illegal UICs. NEDC Project Coordinator Tyler Lobdell has been heading NEDC’s efforts to push DEQ to write clear, effective, and enforceable permits. Over the past year, Tyler has directed and overseen students as they have researched the legal and factual issues surrounding the permitting of stormwater UICs. Building on this work, Tyler and the NEDC volunteers will continue to track and comment on new proposed UIC permits.
Hidden in Plain Sight - Industrial Stormwater Runoff
While some see the transition from fall to winter as the time to put the boats away for the season, it is when the storm clouds are the darkest that NEDC’s Executive Director starts thinking about getting out into the field or into a kayak. From experience, Mark knows that the winter rains unleash a threat that has been hiding in plain sight all summer long. Over those dry months the yards and parking lots of industrial facilities (the factories, shipping centers, scrap yards, and the like) have been collecting dirt, oils, chemicals and other pollutants. When the rains come, these contaminants are picked up in the stormwater and carried to nearby streams and rivers.
With the current Oregon industrial stormwater permits nearing the end of their five year terms, Oregon DEQ is in the process of revising the minimum standards facilities must meet to reduce the pollutants running off their sites. This process presents an important opportunity for the State to assess the current status of our waters and to set requirements necessary to ensure those waters are protected. NEDC will be pushing the Department to take a hard look at what has, and has not, worked under the current permit, and to make the changes necessary to move us towards the goal of clean water.
In the meantime, NEDC continues to enforce the existing permits. Through Mark’s work on the water and biking through industrial areas, and work by NEDC staff, students and volunteers reviewing files at the regulatory agencies, we regularly find violators and bring enforcement cases. These cases result in changes at the facility to reduce or eliminate the discharge of pollutants and require the companies to pay for work to remediate and protect the waters they may have harmed.