2013 Oregon drought calls for action on climate change

Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2013 

Almost 2,000 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest body of water in the United States, a beautiful gem of southern Oregon. Fed by overhead snow and rain, the lake is one of the cleanest and purest in the world. Gazing upon the breathtakingly bright blue waters of the lake is something you never forget.

But there is trouble in paradise. During the past 21 years, I have spent my summers living in Crater Lake National Park. Looking out my bedroom window, I noticed winters are becoming shorter, warmer and less snowy. It looks to me like it has been raining more and snowing less in the months of May, June, September, and October. This change in the weather has led me to become very worried about climate change.

The science confirms my observation. In 1931, rangers first began keeping track of the average annual snowfall at Crater Lake. Since then, the totals have been trending downward by decade from an average of 614 inches in the 1930s to about 455 inches last decade. Even more alarming, this last winter, 2012-13, Crater Lake received about 355 inches.

Climate researchers expect the trend to continue. They predict the Pacific Northwest will experience even less snow and warmer temperatures in the decades to come.

Most snow that falls in the park eventually leaves here to nourish the river sheds of southern Oregon such as the Klamath River Basin. Less snow falling in the park means less water is leaving the park to support southern Oregon cities, ranches, farms, and wildlife downstream.

According to the National Weather Service, Southern Oregon is currently under a persistent drought that may last until the end of October, if not longer. This spring, the USDA designated Klamath, Lake, Harney and Malheur counties as drought disaster counties. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Klamath Basin experienced the second driest January-through-March on record.

This current drought is an alarm bell telling us that it is time for Oregonians and Americans to stand up and take action on climate change.

The National Academy of Sciences, U.S. Department of Defense, American Meteorological Society, and even the Catholic Church all say climate change is real and caused by humans. According to NASA, over 97 percent of climate scientists agree on this.

It’s getting bad, but we can limit the damage if we choose.

Humans pump more than 90 million tons of carbon dioxide a day into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, more than 33 billion tons each year. For over 150 years, scientists have known that CO2 traps the earth’s heat. Since the industrial revolution, we’ve increased the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere by over 40 percent.

Earth now has a “fever,” and the global average surface temperature has increased by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit or 0.8 Celsius. The impact of climate change is felt worldwide by more extreme floods, heat waves, and droughts, like we are currently experiencing in southern Oregon.

One of our leading climate scientists, retired NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen, says the best way to reduce the threat of climate change is for Congress to quickly pass carbon fee and dividend legislation.

A national carbon fee would tax fossil fuels — oil, coal, and natural gas — as they are extracted from the ground or arrive in port. This tax would cause fossil fuels to become increasingly expensive. At the same time, non-polluting renewable energy — solar, wind, and geothermal — would become increasingly attractive investments because of their relatively cheaper cost. Revenue from the carbon fee would be used to give Americans an evenly distributed dividend check to offset rising energy costs associated with the fee.

The beauty of Crater Lake National Park and surrounding southern Oregon, plus the current drought, should inspire us to do everything we can to limit the threat of climate change for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.

The best way to limit future droughts threatening our farms, cattle ranches, salmon fisheries, and drinking water supply is to take action on climate change. That action, a national fee on carbon with revenue returned to households, will only happen if local Southern Oregon citizens tell our members of Congress, such as Congressman Greg Walden and U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, to make it so.

Source:  http://www.heraldandnews.com/members/forum/guest_commentary/article_2537cdba-231d-11e3-99d5-001a4bcf887a.html

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.

Source:  http://www.eugeneweekly.com/20130808/news-briefs/defazio-bill-bad-clean-water

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.

Source:  http://www.capitalpress.com/content/mp-livestock-auction-ruling-080513


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.

Source:  http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20130805/UPDATE/130805022/Radioactive-water-leaking-into-Pacific-Fukushima-watchdog-declares-emergency-?nclick_check=1

What 3.6 Degrees Means for Snowpack in the Western Cascades

Rising temperatures will reduce the peak snowpack in the Cascades slopes east of Eugene, Ore. by more than fifty percent, according to a climate study Oregon State University researchers published Thursday.

Climate models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict temperatures in the Pacific Northwest will rise about 3.6 degrees by the mid-century. That projected increase matters in the western Cascades, where a few degrees is often the difference between a snowy day and a rainy day.

Oregon State University Researcher Eric Sproles developed a sensitive model to predict how that temperature increase will affect the McKenzie River, which starts near Mount Washington and is a major tributary of the Willamette.

Sproles says the McKenzie River serves as a good representative example of a Cascades watershed, and that the river had a good historic record he could use to refine climate modes: 21 years of past data on snowpack, temperatures, and water levels.

Sproles found that climate change won’t affect the total amount of precipitation much. But it will reduce the snowpack that feeds the river in the spring and summer by 56 percent.

“The loss of snowpack is going to be 2.5 times bigger than the largest reservoirs that are in the basin right now,” he says.

Researchers with the University of Washington’s Climate Impact Group have modeled similar changes in the snowpack in the Washington cascades, with implications for rivers like the Columbia and Yakima.

Lara Whitely Binder, an outreach specialist with the Climate Impact Group, says numerous studies have predicted reductions in snowpack at moderate elevations, decreased summer flows in snowpack dominated river basins on the west side, and changes in the timing of peak flows in Northwest rivers.

“There’s a consistent story line emerging from these studies. It increases the robustness of the science,” she says. “For people working in the central Oregon area, it’s always helpful to have a study that relates to the watershed you’re working in.”

More than 200,000 people, including Eugene residents, depend on the McKenzie for drinking water, according to the McKenzie River Watershed Council.

The Willamette tributary also supports agriculture and salmon runs.

Sproles says he hopes his study can be used as a tool to help plan for the future:

“This is not a doom and gloom story; it’s more of a cautionary tale. We do not live in a precipitation limited environment by any means. The shifts in precipitation will be expressed in streamflow, but we’re fortunate. We have water. But we might have to change our decisions in how we use that water, especially the timing.”

Source: http://earthfix.opb.org/water/article/what-36-degrees-means-for-snowpack-in-the-western-/

Oregon Reservoirs Low heading Into Irrigation Season

OPB | April 03, 2013 4:19 p.m. | Updated: April 03, 2013 6:59 p.m. | Bend, Oregon

Some Oregon farmers could have a difficult time finding water for their crops this summer.  That’s according to the state’s Water Resources Department.  With the spring irrigation season about to begin, state reservoirs hold only half their normal amount of water.

Barry Norris the state engineer for the Oregon Water Resources Department. He says the way things stand now, most reservoirs won’t be able to fully meet the needs of irrigators through the growing season.

Making matters worse, the Oregon snowpack, which Norris calls the state’s largest reservoir, is also below normal.

Norris says snowpack in the Malheur Basin is only at 26% of normal.

“We’re going to have a short water year this year, unless we have a very wet spring and summer like has happened in the past.  But conditions now are well below normal,” said Norris.

Norris sits on a subcommittee of Oregon’s Drought Council.  That’s a standing panel run by Oregon Emergency Management.

The subcommittee will meet next week in Salem to assess the latest conditions throughout the state.

Source: http://www.opb.org/news/article/oregon-reservoirs-low-heading-into-irrigation-season/

Report highlights groundwater decline in Columbia Plateau

A new report shows that groundwater levels in wells drilled in the arid Columbia Plateau are declining nearly 2 feet per year on average.

The report released Tuesday by the U.S. Geological Survey examines well levels in the plateau that crosses parts of Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

Scientists compiled data about water levels in 60,000 wells in the area. The report concludes that nearly three-fourths of all wells, or 72 percent, declined from 1968 to 2009. The average rate of change for all wells was 1.9 feet per year of decline.

Declining groundwater levels in several Northwest aquifers have long been a source of concern. Last year, Washington officials warned that 25 communities in the Columbia River basin could have their municipal wells go dry as soon as a decade.

Source:  http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2013/02/report_highlights_groundwater.html#incart_river

2013 could be a watershed year for water in Oregon


Capital Press

Lawmakers will gather in Salem Jan. 14 to kick off the 2013 Oregon Legislature with an eye on water.

Among other water issues expected to surface this session, lawmakers will debate the merits of a new water-right management fee and whether to authorize bonds for water-supply development.

And legislators will have a new tool to guide their debate. Oregon’s first Integrated Water Resources Strategy was adopted Aug. 2 by the Oregon Water Resources Commission.

“The fact that we now finally have a strategy that sets out a vision in the future for where we are headed is a great accomplishment,” said Richard Whitman, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s natural resources policy director.

In addressing the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee in December, Whitman said Kitzhaber crafted his proposed 2013-15 budget with an eye toward implementing the strategy.

Among other water-related provisions, the budget includes $22 million in bond financing for the development of water-supply projects in Oregon.

“Oregon is moving into a new role in water resources,” Whitman told the committee. “It is a role that many of our neighboring states have taken on in terms of an active partner in water resources development with the federal government, with local partners, with private industry.

“This is a down payment on Oregon beginning to do that same thing,” Whitman said. “Not just for irrigated agriculture, although that is important and there is a strong economic development component of this, but also for eco-system function, for improving the condition of our fisheries.”

Katie Fast, government affairs director of the Oregon Farm Bureau, said the provision offers farmers their first good opportunity for new water-supply development in quite some time.

“I think this is a year of opportunity for water development in Oregon,” Fast said.

“For the first time in a long time we’re seeing a request for funds for a water-supply development program,” said Brenda Bateman, spokesperson for the Oregon Water Resources Department. “That includes above and below ground storage, interstate partnerships to gain access to stored water, and other strategies. And we just haven’t had those kinds of strategic conversations in a very long time.”

The proposed budget also calls for implementation of a water right management fee that farm interests are cool on.

“We will be opposing that fee,” Fast said. “We have a lot of concerns around a water fee that the state would start charging for the use of a resource that private individuals have put forward the groundwork and expense to develop.”

Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries, said he is concerned that farmers won’t obtain direct benefits from the fees.

“What we need to do is show what the benefit is for the fee, beyond just the additional dollars for the department,” Stone said.

“Our hope is to see how the fee is constructed, how those dollars are distributed within basins and the equity part of it before we render a decision (whether to support or oppose the fee),” Stone said.

Kitzhaber is proposing the fee as a way to provide more stable funding for an agency that has long relied on general fund dollars to support the bulk of its financing.

“The reality is, long term, this department has relied heavily on general fund dollars,” Whitman said. “And in order to provide a stable platform for both economic development purposes and resource conservation purposes, we need a more diversified funding base for this agency that is more akin to what most of the other natural resource agencies have,” Whitman said.

The initial proposal is to charge water users $100 per water right per year, with a $1,000 cap for any one farm.

Overall, Stone applauded the governor for his commitment to the Oregon Department of Water Resources. The governor’s budget boosts the agency’s funding by more than $15 million, moving it from $51.7 million in 2011-13 to just under $66 million in the 2013-15 biennium.

“It reverses a trend of disinvestment in natural resources agencies,” Stone said, “and for that, we give the governor a lot of credit.”

The increase includes about a $5 million bump in general fund support.

Source: http://www.capitalpress.com/orewash/ml-legislative-preview-010812