Helping Fish Find Their Way Up The Clackamas

Rob Manning / OPB


“And it worked pretty close to 100 years. By those standards, it was a premiere fish ladder back in the day,” Shibahara says.


When PGE relicensed its Clackamas dams recently, it agreed to abandon the ladder, and build a new fish staircase.


“It’s a whole lot easier to go up something with lower steps, instead of a ladder that’s near vertical,” Shibahara explains.


PGE aims to help fish get past the dam’s turbines while maximizing power production. Those turbines can kill fish.


River Mill now has a fish collector — picture a huge horizontal funnel — on the upriver side of the dam. Like a fish ladder — it helps fish avoid the turbines, only for fish going downriver.


“We don’t lose water as a resource for making energy. However, there’s a lot of resources that goes into maintaining these mechanical features,” Shibahara says.



Shibahara’s colleague, John Esler, says the funnel kept PGE from having to screen off all the turbines.


“If you had to do them all, let’s say you had to build one big one out here in the open area, to screen all the water that came in — it’d be huge, it’d be five times bigger than this,” Esler says.


And could’ve been prohibitively expensive.


Biologists say wild salmon and steelhead that get above the dam mostly avoid the collector, and just keep swimming upriver. The big funnel corrals hatchery fish, who tend to get lost, once they’re past the hatchery.


Keeping wild and hatchery fish separate is a persistent dilemma for biologists. The common practice of using handnets can hurt the fish.


Nine miles upriver at PGE’s North Fork Dam there’s an experimental contraption aimed at separating hatchery and wild fish. It’s the brainchild of Garth Wyatt, a fish biologist with PGE.



In Wyatt’s system, human hands never touch the fish. The fish first go to a holding pen.


Wyatt is inside a room a few feet away facing two, three-foot long tanks.


He kicks a pedal. A tanks fill with water and a fish swims in from the pen. A second later, Wyatt identifies it and pushes one of several buttons on a control pad. He’s a gatekeeper, sending wild fish to habitat upriver, and hatchery fish into a pen, to be trucked back down.


“You get pretty good at it. Luckily for us, the majority of fish we’re getting are wild, so you kind of hedge your bets – you always have your hand on the wild fish button, first until you make the determination it’s hatchery,” Wyatt says.


Hatchery fish get their adipose fins clipped. On wild fish, those are intact.


“As soon as I see anything that’s sticking up beyond where a clipped fin would be – I just hit him out.” Wyatt says identifying fish is the easy part.


“You know, I wish I’d played more video games when I was younger. I would’ve been better at actually hitting the buttons. My hand-eye coordination is probably not as good as the next generation of biologists.”


All of these changes — Wyatt’s fish separator, the giant funnel, the fish staircase — are to help federally-protected fish. Helping fish can mean diverting water away from producing power. But PGE’s John Esler says sometimes it means new flows. And where there are no fish, there can be turbines.


“So there’s no new dams, it’s just taking advantage of the water going back into the river, below our facilities.”  Esler says PGE is adding four new turbines capable of producing enough energy to light more than 2000 homes.


Clackamas Watershed Collects Pollutants And Drinking Water

Cassandra Profita / OPB

Water intake for Lake Oswego


Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey have found 63 different pesticides and herbicides in the Clackamas River Basin. And testing shows some of those chemicals are winding up in the drinking water communities take from the river.


Sam Doane sits on the Clackamas River Basin Council, which looks out for water quality. So he knows about potential sources of pollution in the water. He’s also a horticulturist with Frank J. Schmidt & Son Nursery, so he’s working to reduce the potential for pesticide runoff on his land.


“We live in an environment where there are a number of streams and rivers adjacent to the property, and we need to be cognizant of what’s happening in those streams and rivers,” he said.


The city of Lake Oswego plans to double the amount of water it takes from the river and is building a larger intake system.


Doane spent two years testing the smart sprayer at his nursery in the Upper Clackamas River basin. The result was a 65 percent reduction in pesticide use.


“That’s 65 percent less material that has the potential to be an environmental concern,” said Doane.


Many miles downstream from Doane’s nursery, Kim Swan is one of the people concerned about pesticides on the Clackamas.


She works for the Clackamas River Water Providers – a group that represents nearly 400,000 people who rely on the river for drinking water. The group includes the cities of Lake Oswego, West Linn, Oregon City, Estacada, Gladstone, Happy Valley, Damascus and a lot of the surrounding rural communities.


Swan says a lot of her customers think their water is coming from the protected watershed of Portland’s Bull Run.


“The Bull Run is unique because it’s a much smaller watershed and it’s protected. The public doesn’t have access. There’s no agriculture, no logging,” Swan says.


But the Clackamas watershed is different.


“Our watershed, on the other hand, is very large. It’s approximately 940 square miles.”


Swan points out that on the many miles upstream from drinking water intakes on the Clackamas, there are nurseries, timberland, wastewater treatment plants, houses with septic systems, golf courses and state and county roads.



Water testing in the river reveals numerous pollutants that could be coming from any of those places. Those pollutants include pesticides, gasoline components and flame retardants. But it’s hard to trace the chemicals to any one source.


For Doane, reduction of pesticide use is one answer. In recent years his nursery has reduced its pesticide use by 50 percent even without the smart sprayer. But the new technology could further reduce the potential for runoff.


“I’m really excited about it. I think it provides a great opportunity for growers and landowners and the community at large to reduce environmental impact from pesticide use,” Doane says.


Of the 63 different pesticides and herbicides detected in the Clackamas River Basin, 15 of them were still present in treated drinking water samples.


The levels were really low, and they didn’t exceed any of the limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency for what is safe to drink. In some cases, the amount of pesticide was less than 1 part per trillion, which is the equivalent of one drop in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.


Growers at the Hans Nelson Nursery in Boring spray water on rows of trees to compare the coverage offered by conventional pesticide sprayers with a new “smart” pesticide sprayer.


Kurt Carpenter is a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey. He did the drinking water studies of Clackamas River water and says the results still raise concerns. Many of the chemicals detected in Clackamas drinking water aren’t regulated at all by safe drinking water laws. So their potential health effects haven’t been studied – especially when you mix them together.


“So, when you find a contaminant at these exceedingly low levels, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not going to have an effect – especially when you have two or three different chemicals that might be acting together in an additive or synergistic fashion,” Carpenter says. “It just raises a lot of questions about what does it mean when these things are detected at all.”


In response to the findings, the communities that take their drinking water from the Clackamas are working on ways to prevent pollution before it gets into the river. Swan, who heads the water provider organization, has commissioned detailed maps of aging septic systems upstream that might be at risk of leaking. She’s organized pesticide and pharmaceutical drug collection events. And she’s looked at offering financial incentives for farmers upstream to get organically certified.


“When studies like this come out we’ll often get calls from our customers saying ‘What’s this? What are you doing about it?’ We tell them that we’re aware of it. That we’re trying to be proactive. That our treatment plants have the ability to treat for most of this stuff. Our goal is to not let them get worse,” Swan says.


Despite the potential threats to drinking water on the Clackamas, communities still see the river as a great drinking water source for the future. So great, in fact that they’re asking to take more water from the river.


On the riverbank near Gladstone, workers drive piles for a new water intake facility. The city of Lake Oswego has plans to double the amount of water it takes from the river. And to do that, it will need a bigger intake system.


“Our water system was built in the 1960s,” says Jane Heisler, spokeswoman for the Lake Oswego Tigard Water Partnership,  “and we have had a few summers in the last five years or so where we’re bumping up against the max we can deliver with our current system.”


Lake Oswego currently has access to 16 million gallons a day of Clackamas River water. But in the future it plans to tap its full 38 million gallons a day in water rights and sell some of that water to the city of Tigard to pay for the new intake and an advanced water treatment plant.


“We don’t expect that we’ll need that water for many, many years, but at some point in the future we will,” Heisler says.


Other communities are looking to the Clackamas for more water as well. Some are preparing for growth in response to Metro’s expansion of the urban growth boundary into the Happy Valley and Damascus area.


Three other municipalities have applied to further develop their water rights on the river. Altogether, the requests add up to a water demand of 150 cubic feet per second.


That volume has environmentalists worried.


“We’ve already got a critical problem out there.”


John DeVore is the executive director of the environmental group Water Watch.


He’s worried about the impact of additional water withdrawals to three threatened species of salmon and steelhead on the river.


“If we take more water out of the river, scientists have said we’re going to reach flow levels that are too low for fish. So we’re trying to prevent flow levels from getting that low.”


DeVore’s group has gone to court to prevent Lake Oswego, Tigard and three other municipalities from removing water from the river when it’s needed for fish.


The case has made it to the state court of appeals. Oral arguments are expected sometime this fall.


Water fee hikes go into effect without panel’s approval


Capital Press

Lawmakers advanced Oregon’s new Integrated Water Resources Strategy by creating new programs and extending existing ones during the recently completed 2013 legislative session, according to an Oregon Water Resources Department official.

In a report to the Oregon Water Resources Commission Aug. 9, Brenda Bateman, public information officer for the department, characterized the session as “extremely busy for water, both on the policy and budget sides.”

Lawmakers added resources to the department, Bateman said, extended sunsets on programs due to expire, created a water supply development fund and increased water transaction fees in the session that ended July 8.

Bateman said that a late-session amendment to House Bill 2259, which authorized the department to increase fees, gave the department authority to enact the fee increases retroactive to July 1.

The new fee schedule includes a one-time 13 percent average increase over the most recent schedule for several dozen fees, including water right certificate fees, water use permits and water right transfers.

The amendment also put a July 1, 2017, sunset on the new fees. At that time, without further legislative action, fees would revert back to the most recent schedule.

The late-session amendment removed a provision of the bill that authorized the department to increase fees 2 percent annually or at the rate of inflation, Bateman said.

In general, Bateman said the department fared well in the first session since the state adopted its long-term strategy for dealing with water.

“Recommendations coming out of the Integrated Water Resources Strategy fared very well this session, not only for our agency, but for our sister agencies as well,” Bateman said.

The Oregon Water Resources Commission met Aug. 8-9 in Baker City.


Baker City shuts off second water source over positive test for parasite that sickened many

August 09, 2013 – 3:22 pm EDT



BAKER CITY, Oregon — Baker City officials have shut off another source of city water as a result of a positive test for cryptosporidium, the parasite that sickened many residents.

The discovery this week of cryptosporidium in water from a mountain stream named Elk Creek adds to the mystery over the contamination, The Baker City Herald ( reported.

The parasite causes severe diarrhea. State and local officials say 300 to 400 people were ill.

Animal feces is the usual source of cryptosporidium. When the illness started in late July, the city suspected water from a lake where mountain goats congregate and stopped drawing from it.

Much of the city’s water comes from diversions from streams such as Elk Creek. Public Works Director Michelle Owen the city’s watershed manager inspected the Elk Creek diversion July 31 and found no evidence cattle had been in the area. She said the namesake animals, elk, are known to roam the upper part of the creek’s drainage.

City officials say they’re increasingly concerned about adequate supplies and have asked water users to be sparing.

They’ve also advised residents to boil water used for drinking and tooth care.

Dr. Bill Keene, the senior state epidemiologist, said that if the city’s water is determined to be the source of the cryptosporidium, the most plausible theory, the outbreak would be the largest in a municipal water system since 1994 in Las Vegas.

And if mountain goats turn out to be the cause, that might be a first in the United States, he said.

The city faces a 2016 federal deadline to protect the city water against cryptosporidium, likely by treating it in a plant with ultraviolet light.

The City Council learned this week that because of the outbreak, it may have to build a more expensive filtration plant.


DeFazio Bill Bad For Clean Water?

Clean drinking water is a logging issue in Oregon, where so many of our watersheds are on forest lands. In the furor over the DeFazio forest bill — or more properly the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act — river advocates say that the need to protect water for fish, wildlife and humans gets lost as people argue over county payments, timber jobs and board feet.

John Kober of the Pacific Rivers Council says, “We haven’t seen a real brass tacks look into what does this mean for water, clean drinking water in particular, if our lands are harvested at the level at which [Congressman Peter] DeFazio is proposing.”

DeFazio and Reps. Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader’s bill, which would split Oregon’s 2.4 million acres of federal O&C forests into a conservation trust and a timber trust, has generated controversy since its inception. Logging the O&C lands has historically been a source of county funding, but the lands are also the source of drinking water and a haven for wildlife. The bill passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee July 31. It is part of a larger piece of forest legislation offered by Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, but is under a separate title.

Chandra LeGue of Oregon Wild calls the Hastings bill “the worst environmental bill we’ve seen in a generation.” She adds, “Peter didn’t like the Hastings bill, but that didn’t stop him from voting for it.”

LeGue shares Kober’s concerns about the lack of protection for streams under the proposal, which calls for using weaker state rather than federal environmental laws on the federal lands. “It’s still public land but federal laws not applying just seems wrong,” she says.

Under the House version of the bill, federal laws and protections under the Northwest Forest Plan would not be used; instead the lands would be logged under the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA) that allows for pesticide use and has no stream buffers for nonfish-bearing streams — which still produce drinking water. Protection for fish-bearing streams would be cut in half.

The protection for streams has actually increased since an earlier draft of the bill. DeFazio said in a July 30 press release that in response to comments and recommendations from Gov. Kitzhaber’s task force, “several changes have been made to better protect Oregonians’ drinking water and fish-bearing streams.”

But clean water advocates say that’s not enough. David Moryc of American Rivers says that Eugene and Springfield residents are among the “1.8 million people who derive their drinking water from O&C lands.” He says that 81 drinking water providers get their water from these forests. Those providers face dealing with water that would be more turbid (full of sediments), warmer and possibly full of pesticides, he says.

DEQ maps showing sensitive lands also show some of the logging would be on steep slopes, Moryc says, and landslides on those slopes would affect water quality and increase costs for downstream users.

Add turbidity from road building and the fact the private lands logging “has virtually no protections for clean water,” and Kober says the O&C bill would add to the harm done to Oregon water, rather than benefit it the way federal forests should.

Sen. Ron Wyden is expected to introduce a Senate version of the bill “at the end of the summer,” his spokesperson Tom Towslee says, which according to Towslee is around Sept. 21. He says, “Of course people are always concerned about clean water and fish buffer zones,” and adds that the bill is still in process.


Water From A Trinity Reservoir Will Be Released Into The Klamath River

The Bureau of Reclamation announced that it will release water from the Trinity River reservoirs to supplement flows in the Klamath River.

The additional water is meant to help prevent a fish kill and support salmon runs. 

Pete Lucero is with the Bureau of Reclamation. He says water from the Trinity River reservoirs has gone to help the Klamath River before.

We’re looking at perhaps making releases from the Trinity system as early as August 13 because it takes about two days for water to travel from the Trinity Reservoir through the rivers system to the point at which we measure flows,” Lucero says.

The reservoir is in California, west of Redding.  It feeds into the Klamath River, which crosses the Oregon-California border.


Appeal planned in lawsuit challenging state’s Clean Water Act authority


Capital Press

A livestock auction company is planning to appeal a federal judge’s dismissal of its lawsuit challenging the State of Oregon’s oversight of confined animal feeding operations, according to the company’s lawyer.

Last year, the Eugene Livestock Auction of Junction City, Ore., filed a complaint against two state agencies — the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Agriculture — claiming they were illegally administering federal law.

The complaint alleged that Oregon doesn’t have the proper authority to enforce the federal Clean Water Act, which means it “may not administer an independent state-based, water pollution control program related to confined or concentrated animal feeding operations.”

Even if the state can enforce that law, the plaintiff claimed the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality improperly delegated its authority to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon has now dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the auction yard should have made those arguments during previous state administrative proceedings.

Between 2008 and 2010, the livestock auction was cited three times by the Oregon Department of Agriculture for allegedly failing to comply with the terms of its Clean Water Act permit, according to a previous opinion.

In each of the three cases, the company could have appealed the findings in state court but chose not to, the document said.

The underlying controversy in those proceedings was the same as in the federal case, so the livestock auction already had the opportunity to question the state’s power over CAFOs, the judge said.

“When plaintiff received the noncompliance notices, plaintiff could have raised the defense that the state did not have the authority to regulate plaintiff before ODA or before the Oregon courts,” Simon’s ruling said.

Bruce Anderson, owner of the livestock auction, said Oregon’s regulations don’t comply with the federal Clean Water Act and were never approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Anderson said that a drainage ditch from a state highway diverts water onto his property, causing it to flood.

He said the state entered into a settlement deal agreeing to correct the problem when it planned to build a prison nearby, but the project was scrapped and the flooding persists.

“It was the state causing the discharge on my property and the Oregon Department of Agriculture was fining me for it,” Anderson said.

Jacob Wieselman, attorney for the auction, said he believes the ruling was erroneous and plans to appeal it.

The previous state proceedings were separate from the company’s lawsuit, which asked the federal court to interpret the Clean Water Act, Wieselman said.

“We’re just looking at the law,” Wieselman said. “We’re not challenging the fines or prior actions.”

Capital Press was unable to immediately reach Stephanie Parent, the attorney representing the state agencies in the case, for comment.



Radioactive water leaking into Pacific, Fukushima watchdog declares “emergency”

Radioactive groundwater at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear reactor has risen above the level of an underground barrier meant to contain it and is headed for the Pacific Ocean.

Last month, Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, acknowledged for the first time that the reactor was leaking contaminated underground water into the ocean.

On Monday, an official at Japan’s nuclear watchdog agency told Reuters that the situation constitutes an “emergency.”

Shinji Kinjo told the news agency that the leak is exceeding legal limits of radioactive discharge.

The reactor was damaged in a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in East Japan, and Tepco has struggled to contain contamination.

Oregon officials aren’t yet mobilizing in response to the news, said Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the Oregon Health Division, which oversees the state’s radiation monitoring program.

After the 2011 earthquake, Oregon began monitoring ocean water and drinking water from three locations along the Oregon coast. The monitoring was suspended in September 2011 because there were no significant findings.

In April 2012, when tsunami debris began arriving along the Oregon coast, the state began sampling surf water, sand from the high tide line, and drinking water from three locations along the coast.

In March, 2013, health officials reviewed the data from the samples and concluded that it is unlikely that tsunami debris presents a radiation risk to the public. It then scaled back sampling to quarterly.


Blue Heron Paper Mill cleanup uses compost, gardens to treat contaminated water

Three floors under the closed Blue Heron paper mill, just above the Willamette’s summer waterline, ground and storm water trickle out of the darkness toward the river. The stream, carrying metals and other pollutants absorbed from the mill’s galvanized roofs and old piping, needs to be treated before it returns to the ecosystem.
Jeffrey Pettey and his company, Gullywasher, are building a 6-foot wall of compost to do just that.
The Blue Heron mill shut down in 2011 after more than 100 years of continual operation, putting 175 people out of work. NRI Global Inc., a Canadian private-investment firm, acquired the mill’s equipment for $5.7 million plus about $1.6 million for site clean-up and maintenance.
Mo Darwish, NRI’s project manager for the site, expects their work and Pettey’s to be completed within the month. In total, they’ve shipped out about 7,000 tons of scrap and machinery.
The compost Pettey uses looks like playground tanbark — he found a chewed up Lego in one batch. But this bark has cooked in compost for six months, picking up microbes and fraying the wood to better catch larger waste particles. At the mill, the Gullywasher crew packs it into green mesh composting “socks” designed to absorb heavy metals. These are stacked, layer by layer, into metal cages so that the dirty water hits the compost first, then washes through a second layer of drainage rocks. Stripped of zinc, copper and any other contaminants, the water runs straight down the bank and into the Willamette.
In excess, zinc and copper are toxic to salmon, with effects ranging from stunting growth to damaging the neural system.
Pettey said this system is a first for industrial wastewater cleanup. A main advantage is that it requires far less electricity and manpower than the current process, which pumps the affected water — with some stops in between — to a lagoon in West Linn. Darwish said the compost system will save money for the land’s trustees and make the clean-up more environmentally friendly.
The compost walls will last about five years, with cleaning required only after major floods. And Pettey is redesigning the compost cages to make them easier to maintain.
“I love doing this stuff. This is adventure,” he said. “Problems like this, it really does improve the quality of life.”
Frank Shields, the lab director for the organics division of Watsonville, Calif. Control Laboratories Inc., helped test the compost socks, made by Filtrexx International, LLC, an Ohio company.
“It’s excellent at removing particulate matter, probably some of the best media for doing that,” he said.
Shields expressed some doubt about the efficacy of the system in removing enough of the dissolved metals, but said the assessment is highly dependent on individual sites and the make-up of the compost.
Aboveground, Pettey is installing 30 industrial rainwater gardens to clean water that collects zinc from the roofs, walls and tire dust, and copper from piping and brakes. The white boxes are stacked filtration system, with sedges and rushes on top, followed by about two feet of compost and sand, down to a layer of drainage rocks and ending with a PVC piping system.
In a report released in February, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality showed that stormwater systems reduced copper and zinc concentrations by 65 and 83 percent respectively.
The mill’s buildings and land are still being auctioned off. In April, Clackamas County’s Water Environment Services purchased Blue Heron’s West Linn property for $1.75 million. A California company, Eclipse Development Group, made a $4.1 million offer for the 23-acre Oregon City property in June, and the state legislature approved $5 million in lottery-backed bonds to aid development in July.

Lawsuit Says Dams Are Polluting Columbia And Snake Rivers

August 1, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An environmental group has filed a lawsuit alleging that hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers are illegally polluting water.

Columbia Riverkeeper filed the suit Wednesday against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in federal courts in Oregon and Washington. The conservation group says acute spills and chronic leaks of oil have occurred at dams including Bonneville, The Dalles, John Day and Ice Harbor.

Columbia Riverkeeper director Brett VandenHeuvel says in a statement that the river is a treasure and should be protected from oil pollution.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the corps has violated the Clean Water Act along with injunctions requiring the corps to stop releasing pollutants and to evaluate and fix environmental damage.

The Corps of Engineers did not immediately return a call seeking comment.