Morning Sentinel, January 23, 2014 NORTH ANSON — High school freshman Emily Poulin is used to drinking bottled water at home, even though she says it isn’t the best option for the environment. At school, though, Poulin has started to carry a reusable stainless steel water bottle between classes.
Big decisions are looming for management of 2.8 million acres of Oregon’s public forestlands – an area covering the size of more than eight Crater Lake National Parks. Because legislation concerning management of the so-called O&C lands could end up undermining some of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act, Oregonians aren’t the only ones with a stake in the issue.
Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is proposing legislation that would increase clearcut logging closer to streams, on steep slopes and unstable soils, and would allow the use of toxic herbicides, which would compromise clean drinking water for 1.8 million Oregonians.
The proposal also threatens several thousand miles of habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead in iconic river systems like the North Umpqua, Illinois, Rogue, McKenzie, and Nestucca.
Conservation groups including American Rivers, Pacific Rivers Council, and the Wild Salmon Center are urging Oregon Senator Ron Wyden to craft an O&C lands bill with stronger protections for clean water and salmon.
This short video, Forests to Faucets: Clean Water or Clearcuts? provides a great overview of what’s at stake for Oregon’s clean water. I was happy to participate in the creation of the video (I’m the mom at the end) because clean drinking water is so fundamental to our well-being, and I want my kids to be able to swim, float, catch fish, and experience the wild beauty of places like the North Umpqua and the Rogue.
Many Mainers may not have heard of Enbridge, But they will. Enbridge is a gigantic energy company with it’s sights on Maine. Enbriidge wants to move oil to Casco Bay via the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line. The prospect of crude oil being piped to Portland has mobilized citizens in Maine and beyond to protest.
Sandra Spargo, Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin, Dec. 15, 2012
Moreover, if the Wash. State Supreme Court rules in favor of the Swinomish, Skagit River Basin owners of about 5,700 buildable lots–on which at least 400 homeowners have already built homes–could lose access to their well water for residential use.
To understand the viewpoint of landowners/homeowners caught up in the contentious water issue over which they have no input, visit the Just Water Alliance website at http://justwateralliance.org.
Do the citizens of Anacortes want the City to support the Swinomish lawsuit against the the Dept. of Ecology that could result in at least 400 homeowners losing their well water for residential use, possibly their homes? For a history of Anacortes’ involvement with Swinomish lawsuits, see the legal section of the City of Anacortes website at http://www.cityofanacortes.org/Legal/WaterRightsSwinomish/index.asp.
County suggests Swinomish dismiss its lawsuit
By Kate Martin | Posted: Saturday, December 15, 2012 1:00 am
MOUNT VERNON — Skagit County commissioners say they will rejoin a 1996 water agreement if the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community drops its lawsuit against the state Department of Ecology.
The tribe’s lawsuit is currently being reviewed by the state Supreme Court. If the tribe is successful, it could lead to all rural and agricultural landowners in the Skagit River basin losing access to well water if they drilled their well in 2001 or after, Ecology officials have said.
The letter, sent Friday, is in response to those sent last week by Anacortes and the Swinomish. Those letters in turn were in response to a November letter by commissioners, which announced the county had left the 1996 Memorandum of Agreement, which outlined a historic water agreement in the valley.
Commissioners also asserted that they had left the agreement because the Swinomish and Anacortes broke that agreement by suing Ecology to invalidate a 2006 state rule amendment that allows more water for rural and agricultural users. The original rule amendment, from 2001, provided no new water at all for rural landowners or for agricultural uses, the county states.
The commissioners’ letter outlined a path to where the county could rejoin the agreement: “You can remedy your ongoing breach by dismissing your pending lawsuit. Until that happens, Skagit County is not a party to the 1996 MOA, and has no further obligations under the 1996 MOA.”
Anacortes Mayor Dean Maxwell said he had not had a chance to read the letter, which was sent at 2 p.m. Commissioners Ken Dahlstedt and Sharon Dillon could not immediately be reached for comment.
Larry Wasserman, environmental services director for the tribe, had little to say about the commissioners’ response.
“The tribe doesn’t believe it is productive to continue to have these debates in the newspaper,” Wasserman said. “Our previous letter speaks for itself, as do the facts on our website. People can look there to find out what the real history has been.”
The commissioners’ letter also says the tribe and city’s ongoing lawsuit “completely undermines the stated purpose of the 1996 MOA” by seeking to eliminate all water for rural landowners and farmers.
The city and tribe both said in their letters that the county was using the same legal process for challenging Ecology’s rule when it sued the agency in 2003 as the tribe used to challenge the rule amendment in 2008.
Skagit County Commissioner Ron Wesen said it’s not the same.
Wesen said the 2003 disagreement the county had with Ecology involved the 2001 instream flow rule because that rule did not include any water for rural agriculture or residences requiring a well.
“What the tribe and Anacortes are saying, ‘We don’t agree with Ecology’s authority to make this change.’ If they don’t have authority to do that, then all exempt wells since 2001” are gone, Wesen said.
The Swinomish contend in their lawsuit that Ecology is using an overly broad definition of a narrowly defined exception to provide water in exceptional circumstances. The Swinomish lost an earlier round in the Thurston County Superior Court in 2010. The state Supreme Court’s ruling could be months from now.
“It’s complicated, but we’ll find out when the Supreme Court makes its ruling who is right,” Wesen said.
Wesen said the MOA and the instream flow rule don’t take into account the fact that water use changes over time. “To say this is the rule we have for 50 years and have no flexibility, it doesn’t make any sense to me.”
By Scott Learn, The Oregonian
on November 15, 2012 at 3:16 PM, updated November 15, 2012 at 3:17 PM
Development in western Oregon and southwest Washington has largely swapped forests for homes, driving down water quality and quickly killing off some species of mayflies and other sensitive insects that rely on relatively pristine streams, a new study from the U.S. Geological Survey finds.
USGS researchers examined nine broad urban regions across the United States for their study, released today. In the Northwest, they tapped into 28 measuring stations from Cottage Grove, south of Eugene, to Battle Ground, north of Vancouver, covering the Willamette Valley and the Portland region.
Forests start off with a greater diversity of species and better water quality than agricultural lands, said USGS scientist and study co-author James F. Coles. So regions that focus development on former forest land, including western Oregon, saw the sharpest quality declines, Coles said.
Paving over forestland denudes streamsides and increases runoff from storms. More rainwater gushes into streams, carrying pesticides, fertilizer and sediment and increasing water temperatures, all threats to aquatic life.
“It’s not one thing or the other,” Coles said. “It’s temperature, flashing of streams and washing off of contaminants.”
The Oregon and Massachusetts study areas saw the biggest decline in “sensitive invertebrate species,” the study found, including mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies, insects familiar to fishermen and long used as indicators of stream health. They decline sharply even in the initial stages of urban development, the researchers said.
The study highlights the need for forest conservation, the researchers said. Other solutions, many being pursued in the Northwest, include planting trees, installing pervious pavement and increasing buffer zones around streams.
By Lynne Terry, The Oregonian
October 17, 2012 at 12:04 PM, updated October 23, 2012 at 6:01 PM
ASTORIA — They appear suddenly in mid- to late summer, flushed by tides into the mouth of the Columbia River. Soaking up the warm sun, they multiply like crazy. Sometimes crimson, sometimes the deep red of a hearty cabernet, they paint dramatic swirls of color in the estuary between Oregon and Washington.
No one knows exactly when these algae first swarmed into the waterway. But this year they appeared to be more abundant than ever, and they stuck around, showing up in early September and staying through last week.
“This year it seems to have persisted for quite a long time,” said Peter Zuber, lead investigator of a study on the algae at the Portland-based Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction.
The algae stun visitors, stymie fishermen and occasionally worry residents, who fear they’re creating a toxic red tide harmful to fish.
But for scientists trying to unravel their secrets, they’re an enigma. When did they first show up in force and why do they return annually? How can they survive the thrashing of ocean waters that sweep into the estuary? What eats them, if anything? What happens when they die? What role do they play in the coastal ecosystem?
What researchers do know is that these single-cell organisms are not toxic and may even be an environmental blessing, acting as a kind of counterweight to negative forces of climate change by spewing oxygen into depleted waters.
Against the braying of sea lions lounging on piers, the dark waters off Astoria glistened in the late morning sun on a recent Wednesday. Pelicans swooped for fish, and a lone seal bobbed in the currents as two scientists launched a torpedo-like device into the north channel of the Columbia.
The 4-foot-long black, white and yellow vehicle with an orange fin slipped into the water, whirred, then whizzed into the deep. Underwater, it searched a grid pattern marked by pinging beacons. The device amassed data on everything from currents, the temperature and salinity of the water to the concentration of oxygen and pigments. The data will help paint a picture of the density of the algae throughout the estuary.
Though the algae form thickets, they’re not easy to track. They dance vertically and swim rapidly. Never stationary, they form patches that hover and streak through the water.
“This is an extremely complex system that we’re trying to understand,” said Craig McNeil, senior oceanographer at the University of Washington and an investigator on the algae project.
By studying the algae, researchers eventually hope to gain a glimpse of how global warming might affect coastal waters so crucial to the food supply, livelihoods and recreation.
The algae — Mesodinium rubrum — are not a new phenomenon. They’ve been sighted off the coast of British Columbia, Chile, Peru, Britain and Denmark. But they’ve not drawn bundles of research dollars, partly because they’re not toxic and pose no obvious threat.
“Trying to get money to study them is not straightforward,” said Tawnya Peterson, a scientist with the Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction, based at Oregon Health & Science University and including researchers from UW and Oregon State University.
Mostly they’ve been seen as a curiosity, though they could be much more than that.
Unlike other phytoplankton, they cannot absorb carbon dioxide or churn out oxygen on their own. They eat other algae and steal their pigments or chloroplasts, which are essential to photosynthesis.
“It’s kind of like farming,” Peterson said.
This mechanism allows them to multiply, or bloom, at an amazing rate. When they’re in full bloom, they infuse the water with dissolved oxygen that salmon, for example, need to survive.
They’re speed champions, traveling great distances by jumping through the water like aquatic fleas. They’re also an attractive species viewed through a microscope, according to Rachel Golda, a graduate student at OHSU who’s studying the algae under Peterson and another scientist at the center.
“They’re cute,” Golda said. “They look like raspberries wearing hula skirts.”
Not everyone shares Golda’s fascination. Ken Rieck, 75, has been fishing in the Columbia since 1968. He first noticed the red algae about a decade ago. He said the red water has made fishing more difficult.
“I hate it,” he said. “When you troll through it, you can’t catch any salmon.”
He steers around a bloom when he can. Divers inspecting the Astoria-Megler Bridge avoid the algae as well.
“We thought it was harmful, so we’ve been avoiding it,” said Rick Shorb, an underwater operations engineer for the Oregon Department of Transportation. “It just looks like blood in the water. It makes visibility so bad we can’t see anything.”
Surfers and kayakers have observed the bloom, and residents have talked about it. Spencer Gotter, head brewer at Fort George Brewery, decided to play homage to the algae with a special high-octane blend: Red Tide Imperial Ale. It was sold on tap this year next to Flanders Nut Red, Roscoe IPA, Quit Wit and other brews.
Packing a punch, it’s served in a brandy snifter to heighten its citrus aroma.
“It’s got an 8.5 percent alcohol content and it’s chock full of Centennial hops — they’re delicious,” said Gotter, who created the red tide ale last August.
The brew is a hit with customers, even if the algae blooms are not. Shannon Meeker, a server at the brewery, said some worry about eating oysters when the Columbia turns red.
“People do make a correlation between the red algae in the river and shellfish,” she said. “They think it’s a red tide.”
Most people associate red tides with fish kills in places like the Gulf of Mexico, where one species of algae releases toxins that paralyze the central nervous system of fish. Other algae have created dead zones off the coast of Oregon. When those algae die, they increase carbon dioxide levels and lower the amount of oxygen.
But Mesodinium rubrum — the algae staining the Columbia — have the opposite effect: They take in carbon dioxide and spew out oxygen.
Curtis Roegner, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the bloom appears to offset low oxygen levels in the Columbia caused by waters washed in from the ocean.
“When we have the bloom, it looks like it can ameliorate this effect,” Roegner said.
That’s good for harvests of fish and shellfish, which are threatened by reduced levels of oxygen. Those creatures are also threatened by ocean acidification associated with rising levels of carbon dioxide from global warming. Oyster larvae, for example, can’t grow shells in water with a low pH.
“It’s a huge worry,” said Golda, the graduate student. She’s working on a project looking at a possible link between the algae and ocean acidification. She suspects the algae thrive in more acidic water.
It could be years, even decades before scientists have a solid understanding of these simple yet perplexing organisms. Although they are not going to halt global warming, they may play a part on a micro scale, Golda said.
“It’s not necessarily going to turn the shellfish industry around,” Golda said, “but it’s a hope.”
Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission today rejected a petition from Northwest Environmental Advocates to increase regulation of pesticides that can harm salmon and steelhead on the endangered species list.
The commission voted 5-0 to reject the petition from Nina Bell, the environmental group’s director. Among other measures, Bell’s petition would have required significantly increased buffer zones for spraying certain pesticides near streams.
The petition focused on pesticides that the National Marine Fisheries Service has identified as harmful to fish and other aquatic life. The federal reviews indicate that some pesticides are harmful even when used according to label instructions approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, the petition notes.
Farm and forest groups opposed the petition, noting that pending lawsuits have challenged NMFS’ conclusions. Critics say NMFS’ assumptions about pesticide use don’t reflect what’s actually happening on the ground.
DEQ staff also opposed the petition, saying that it hopes to expand voluntary pesticide stewardship partnerships to address pesticide pollution in priority watersheds.
The National Academy of Sciences is reviewing the scientific methods used to assess pesticide risks, DEQ staff noted. EPA will use the academy’s conclusions, due in 2013, to decide how to implement NMFS recommendations for pesticide use.
Bell has filed numerous successful lawsuits on water pollution issues, including the suit that prompted Portland to clean up sewage overflows. After the vote, Bell said she plans no further action in the short term.
But pesticide rules are subject to challenge under the Endangered Species Act: “Eventually,” she said, “that’s certainly something that could come up.”
Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 16, 2012. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is looking to revamp the way it enforces the 1993 Agricultural Water Quality Management Act in order to decrease the amount of pesticides that end up in the state’s waterways from agricultural nonpoint source pollution. The new plan, which was unveiled last December, will work by taking a firmer approach than the current plan, which on sporadic complaints for enforcement and cooperative action by residents through soil and water conservation districts. While a new plan could benefit the health of Oregon residents and its waterways, it is in danger because politicians and some farmers believe it will be overly burdensome and increase costs.
Oregon is no stranger to problems with pesticide contamination of its water. The state of Oregon has a complex and diverse agricultural economy which ranges from forestry products to seed crops. Oregon also has thousands of miles of waterways. Roughly 15,000 miles of these waterways are listed as impaired, and nearly half of the 11,000-plus miles of waterways in Willamette River basin need more streamside plants, according to a 2009 state report. These plants help reduce the amount of run off by reducing the amount of pesticides that can reach water-ways. Zollner creek, which runs through the flatlands below Mt. Angel Abbey in the Willamette Valley, was found to be contaminated with pesticides, including the chemical diuron, which is harmful to fish and aquatic organisms. The stream has registered high levels of pesticides and fertilizers since the mid-1990s, and contamination levels detected in the Zollner and around Oregon are high enough to cause harm to aquatic life, including native salmon and steelhead.
ODA Director Katy Coba and her staff floated the new, firmer approach to water quality late last year: The state would target limited resources to the most polluted streams, ramp up education of landowners and accelerate restoration projects, tapping state and federal subsidies. Over time, trees, shrubs and grasses would shade and cool rivers and filter pesticide and fertilizer runoff, benefiting threatened salmon runs. Before-and-after water monitoring would confirm long-term results. As a last resort, ODA would pursue uncooperative landowners, starting with warnings, instead of relying on outside complaints for enforcement. The department unveiled the proposal in December before the state’s water quality committee, including an aerial photo of the threatened Zollner watershed.
This new plan is seen as an improvement from the old system, which relied on outside complaints and cooperative landowners for improvements, leaving gaps which threatened water quality. An example of the problems this faced was last year Marion County’s soil and water conservation district decided to upgrade water quality along Zollner Creek. Conservation districts are government entities that work with landowners and operators who are willing to help them manage and protect land and water resources on all public and private land. While notices went to 75 farmers and land owners only five responded. Two eventually agreed to soil testing, and “Because of a lack of access on private land and interest by landowners,” the district reported to the state in July, “Efforts would be better spent on other projects.” The patchwork of voluntary projects, and a dearth of river data from years past, make it tough to demonstrate the results that environmentalists, federal regulators – and judges – increasingly demand.
The movement to this new system will be politically challenging for ODA because some farmers and conservation districts see the new proposal as a sign of a more active and intrusive governmental agency. In a January letter, the Oregon Association of Conservation Districts warned that farmers and ranchers might believe districts “are conspiring with ODA to set them up” for water quality violations. ODA, with just six field staff in its water quality program for 38,000 farms needs the conservation districts, which it leans on heavily for information and ground work in order to be successful.
Farmers are also concerned. John Annen, whose family has grown hops for more than a century along Zollner Creek, stated “I’m all for the clean rivers and the fish and all that — they were here before we were…But I don’t want somebody out here telling us what to do.” Farmers were also worried about the cost of creating stronger buffer zones. Federal and state subsidies only cover three-quarters of buffer installation, and while rent payments are supposed to address lost land value, land can range up to $12,000 an acre in the area. However, without proper action, and no matter the cost, pesticide pollution in these streams will affect the health and environment of Oregon residents.
Legislators from both parties are watching ODA closely as the proposal moves forward. If they don’t like what they see, bills to restrict or expand ODA’s authority could pop up in the Legislature next year and the future of this program may be in jeopardy after the November 6th elections.
To eradicate pesticides runoff in our waterways and our environment Beyond Pesticides supports farms that work to transition to organic methods of production. Organic food contributes to better health through reduced pesticide exposure for all and increased nutritional quality. In order to understand the importance of eating organic food from the perspective of toxic pesticide contamination, we need to look at the whole picture —from the farmworkers who do the valuable work of growing food, to the waterways from which we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat. Organic food can feed us and keep us healthy without producing the toxic effects of chemical agriculture.
It is important to make your voice heard on organic standards. See Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong webpage for more information on the issues going on right now at the fall NOSB meeting. We will be updating this webpage with our perspectives,, so be sure to check back as new information is added.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
By KIRK JOHNSON New York Times
Published: October 11, 2012
Opponents of a plan to add fluoride to the water supply in Portland filed petitions that could put the issue to a vote. The plan was passed by the City Council last month, set to take effect in 2014, but foes said the idea was rushed and that concerns about fluoride in dental decay prevention are unresolved. A group collecting petitions, Clean Water Portland, said that more than 41,000 signatures were submitted, more than twice the number needed to put the matter on the ballot.