The future of Hillsboro’s water and roads the topic of Tuesday meetings

by andrew Theen, the Oregonian
HILLSBORO — Hillsboro’s roadways and water supply dominated conversation on Tuesday night as the City Council signed off on a plan for proposed roadways and heard an update from city Water Department officials about how to address future needs.
The fifth-largest city in Oregon is expected to continue to grow, and expanding road capacity in the city’s north industrial area is a priority. As is addressing the city’s water supply. The Hillsboro Utilities Commission governs municipal water systems, according to the city charter, but Water Department officials briefed the council at a work session on Tuesday.
“This isn’t an emergency situation,” Tacy Steele, water public information officer, told the council. “We have time to make really good decisions.”
Public Meetings
– Oct. 25 (for South Hillsboro) Civic Center, 150 E. Main Street, Room 113B & C, 6–7:30 p.m.
– Nov. 7 (bilingual, for Hispanic Community, Lincoln Street Elementary School, 801 N.E. Lincoln Street, 6-7:30 p.m.
– Nov. 14 (for North Hillsboro) Main Library, 2850 N.E. Brookwood Pkwy, Community Room, 6– 7:30 p.m.
The department is eyeing a plan to secure water supply for the next 50 years, although actual construction is likely more than a decade away. Steele is leading the department’s ongoing outreach efforts, and she acknowledged getting people to think about water issues is difficult.
The department is in the preliminary stages of pinpointing a “preferred” water source, and five options are being examined. The department advocates using the Willamette River as another water resource to accommodate growth. The commission is expected to make a decision early in 2013 on which option to explore.
Water Department director Kevin Hanway said the city’s current water source, the Tualatin River, will be fine until around 2025. The city peaks at 30 million gallons of water a day in the summer months, Hanway said, but that is expected to soar as the region grows. Hillsboro also taps into Hagg Lake and Barney Reservoir as needed.
The so-called mid-Willamette River option is near Wilsonville. Hanway notes that Wilsonville and Sherwood both use the river. The department analyzed each project on factors like cost, reliability, ownership and environmental impact.
Each of the five proposed locations factors in other municipalities or government partners contributing to the bill.
The mid-Willamette option is the cheapest of the five and Hillsboro’s share projects to be upwards of $370 million, according to Hanway. The total estimated cost is $870 million. The department also looked at the South Willamette, Portland, and using groundwater as possible water sources.
The long-discussed and analyzed Tualatin Basin Water Supply project, which calls for raising the Scoggins Dam by 40 feet, is also on the short list. Hanway said that “reliability is an issue for that project” which is dependent on the federal government and wouldn’t accommodate future growth beyond the dam build-out. A seismic study of the dam is expected out this month. The projected price tag, according to water department officials, is upwards of $1 billion.
During the council session, the city approved a resolution that amended the city’s transportation system plan for the North Hillsboro Industrial area. The plan, which serves a blueprint for the city’s future transportation projects, needed approval prior to an Oregon Transportation Commission meeting regarding the $45 million Brookwood Parkway/Helvetia Road interchange project. 
The council approved a first reading of transportation plans for the AmberGlen community. The plan calls for road extensions and realignments of several roads in the planned community in Northeast Hillsboro. A second reading is expected for Oct. 16.

Corrosive Waters Emerge as New Climate Threat

Sept. 30, 2012,
The Washington Post News Service with Bloomberg News

(c) 2012, The Washington Post.

HOMER, Alaska — Kris Holderied, who directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Kasitsna Bay Laboratory, says the ocean’s increasing acidity is “the reason fishermen stop me in the grocery store.”

“They say, ‘You’re with the NOAA lab, what are you doing on ocean acidification?’ ” Holderied said. “This is a coastal town that depends on this ocean, and this bay.”

This town in southwestern Alaska dubs itself the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World. But worries about the changing chemical balance of the ocean and its impact on the fish has made an arcane scientific buzzword common parlance here, along with the phrase “corrosive waters.”

In the past five years, the fact that human-generated carbon emissions are making the ocean more acidic has become an urgent cause of concern to the fishing industry and scientists.

The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide we put in the air through fossil fuel burning, and this triggers a chemical reaction that produces hydrogen, thereby lowering the water’s pH.

The sea today is 30 percent more acidic than pre-industrial levels, which is creating corrosive water that is washing over America’s coasts. At the current rate of global worldwide carbon emissions, the ocean’s acidity could double by 2100.

What impact it is having on marine life, how this might vary by geography and species, and what can be done about it if humans do not cut their carbon output significantly are some of the difficult questions scientists and policymakers are seeking to answer.

The decline in pH will likely disrupt the food web in many ways. It is making it harder for some animals, such as tiny pteropods and corals, to form their shells out of calcium carbonate, while other creatures whose blood chemistry is altered become disoriented and lose their ability to evade predators.

To study what is happening off the West Coast, Gretchen Hofmann, a professor of marine biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has recruited everyone from sea-urchin divers to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement officials.

She calls it “an all-hands-on-deck moment in our country, and it’s happening before our eyes.”

The NOAA has started tracking changes in the ocean’s pH over time in eight coastal and coral reef ecosystems, ranging from the Gulf of Maine to coastal Hawaii, and is evaluating its impact on more than two dozen commercially important species, such as red king crab, summer flounder and black sea bass.

“One of the primary questions is how is the chemistry of the water changing and how variable is that change across the water we’re responsible for, which is a lot of coastline,” said Libby Jewett, director of the program.

Federal and state authorities are searching for ways to cope with a problem whose obvious solution — slashing global carbon emissions — remains elusive. A blue-ribbon panel established by outgoing Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, D, which will issue its recommendations in November, is examining local contributors such as agricultural runoff. Federal officials and scientists, meanwhile, are trying to determine which species may be able to adapt to more acidic seas and explore what other protections could bolster fish populations under pressure.

In the 1970s, NOAA senior scientist Richard Feely and his colleagues began talking about measuring carbon concentrations in the ocean, the way Charles David Keeling had charted atmospheric carbon from a station in Hawaii’s Mauna Loa starting in 1958. Keeling pushed the oceanographer to refine his methods before taking any measurements, and Feely conducted his first transect of the Pacific Ocean in 1982.

By the late 1990s, scientists such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Joan Kleypas were demonstrating that the sea’s declining pH posed a threat to marine life. At first, scientists assumed that the growing acidity of the ocean would dismantle ecosystems around the world in a uniform way, by dissolving the coral reefs that provide essential habitats and impeding the development of the smallest organisms that form the basis of the food web.

But now, scientists are beginning to tease out a more complex picture, in which some parts of the world could be more vulnerable and others may demonstrate resilience. Water from the deep ocean normally comes up and spills over the continental shelf in a process called upwelling; in the Pacific Northwest this water is increasingly acidic, killing oyster larvae that farmers are growing. Much of Alaska’s waters already have lower pH levels, because the water is colder and cold water can hold more carbon dioxide, and the water that reaches the Arctic has been circulating around the planet, absorbing CO2 along the way.

According to NOAA supervisory oceanographer Jeremy Mathis, “It doesn’t take much to push it past the thresholds we’re concerned about.”

And last year, a team of researchers led by Oregon State University professor George Waldbusser found that the pH in the lower part of the Chesapeake Bay is declining at a rate that’s three times faster than the open Pacific Ocean, partly because of increased nutrient runoff from farming and other activities. This stream of nutrients causes phytoplankton to take more carbon dioxide out of the upper Bay; as the plankton release CO2 as they move to the lower Bay, it increases carbon concentrations and lowers the overall pH.

A.J. Erskine, aquaculture manager for the Kinsale, Va.-based Bevans Oyster Co., and Cowart Seafood Corp. in Lottsburg, Va., said they started focusing on the issue when “two years ago we were seeing production losses, and we didn’t know where it was from.”

Six shellfish hatcheries in Virginia have used state funds to conduct their first year of water chemistry monitoring and hope to do more; Erskine said they suspect nutrient runoff from the land contributes to the problem.

Oyster farmers off the coasts of Washington and Oregon were the first to see how ocean acidification threatened their business. Alan Barton, an employee at Oregon’s Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery, suspected that lower pH waters were killing off oyster larvae, or spat. Working with Oregon State University and NOAA researchers, they were able to prove it was the case, and now time their intakes to ensure that their oysters are exposed to less-acidic water.

“The scientists helped provide an adaptation strategy to help that industry, and it worked,” Feely said, adding that a $500,000 investment in pH-monitoring equipment “saved that industry $34 million in one year,” in 2011.

But Feely and Jewett acknowledged that tackling the problem in the open ocean will be harder. Jewett said that if they can identify which species are most vulnerable, “we can try to be even more protective of them for the future” by limiting their catch.

The die-off of oyster larvae in the Pacific Northwest has implications for oyster growers in places as far away as Homer, Alaska, since they traditionally buy their spat from Washington and Oregon farms. Out on the Homer spit, a slim strip of land jutting out into Kachemak Bay, the Kachemak Shellfish Growers cooperative office now boasts a small hatchery where it hopes to produce 3 million spat this year.

“We just can’t rely on the Lower 48 anymore,” said co-op manager Sean Crosby, whose group received $150,000 in federal funds over the past two years to start up and run the hatchery. “Even though we’re not seeing ocean acidification in Kachemak Bay, we’re feeling its effects.”

Alaska and the NOAA are jointly funding four buoys throughout the state to monitor pH levels, while other NOAA scientists are testing how species such as surf smelt would likely gain from a lower pH because they thrive under those conditions, while others, including dungeness crab, would lose.

These species interact with each other, which is why ocean acidification could have such large ripple effects. The highly vulnerable pteropods, for example, can make up as much as 40 percent of the diet of Alaska’s juvenile pink salmon.

“When you ask why does ocean acidification matter, often we’re interested because of the fish we eat and the things we make money off of,” said Shallin Busch, a research ecologist at the NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Other species, such as purple sea urchins off California’s coast, have shown some genetic capacity to adapt to more acidic conditions, in part because they are periodically exposed to corrosive waters. Hofmann described her job as seeking an answer to the question, “Will there be sushi?”

“The question is, can they adapt quickly enough in this rapidly changing environment?” Hofmann asked. “And the answer, at least in the case of sea urchins, could be yes.”


Drinking Water in Several Oregon Schools Found To Be Contaminated with Multiple Pesticides

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 10, 2012.  Traces of pesticides in drinking water were found in eleven rural elementary schools in Oregon, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study released on August 30. The study shows a disturbing variety of pesticides that when combined could have dramatic impacts on the health of the children that consume this water on a daily basis.
The study found traces of several different types of pesticides in the drinking water of Dixie and Fairplay, the elementary schools that service Corvallis, Oregon.

Some of the pesticides that were found in the Dixie school water include atrazine, bromacil, diuron, imidacloprid, metolachlor, norflurazon, and simazine. In the nine other schools that were found to have pesticides in their drinking water, seven different pesticides were found in the water at Applegate Elementary in Eugene, and multiple pesticides were also found in the drinking water of Ontario’s Pioneer and Cairo elementary.

Children face unique hazards from pesticide exposure. They take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults in the food they eat and air they breathe. Their developing organ systems often make them more sensitive to toxic exposure. The body of evidence in scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low levels. The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 directs EPA to set pesticide residue standards ten times stricter than those considered acceptable for adults, however, this standard has often been ignored.

In addition to the harmful effects that these chemicals have on children, the combination of these chemicals can be more detrimental then each chemical individually. Teresa Huntsinger, who works on clean water issues for the Oregon Environmental Council, is concerned about the schools that have multiple pesticides in their water. “When drinking water levels are set, they’re assuming there’s one pollutant at a time and there’s very little science to understand what can happen when you have multiple chemicals together. There may be synergistic effects in the way these chemicals interact with each other,” Ms. Huntsinger said in a statement to Oregon public broadcasting.

Synergistic effects between multiple pesticides and chemicals are one of the largest gaps in the government’s ability to protect the public from adverse health effects. Mixing pesticides is a clear concern because they may have a stronger effect when combined. A 1999 study found that mixtures of three common groundwater contaminants —two pesticides and a fertilizer (aldicarb, atrazine, and nitrate)— at concentrations allowable in groundwater by EPA are capable of altering immune, endocrine, and nervous system functions in mice.

Atrazine, the chemical most found in this groundwater study, is used nationwide to kill broadleaf and grassy weeds, primarily in corn crops. Atrazine has been shown to be harmful to humans, mammals, and amphibians even when the amount used is less than the government allows. Atrazine is also associated with infertility, low birth weight, and abnormal infant development in humans. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service acknowledges that the chemical may harm the reproductive and endocrine systems in fish species, and there have been other reported cases of it leeching into drinking water both nationally and in Oregon. Additionally, frogs exhibit hermaphrodism when exposed to below below-legal allowable levels of the herbicide atrazine in waterways. The effects of atrazine are so detrimental that some members of Congress are looking to ban its use.

In addition to atrazine, diuron, metolachlor, norflurazon, and simazine, were found in the Fairplay ground water supply. Simizine has been known to be harmful to bees and aquatic species. Simazine also has a history as of leeching into water and has been detected in other groundwater studies.

In Ewing Elementary school drinking water, researchers discovered the presence of 2,4-D. 2,4-D is a chlorophenoxy herbicide and scientists around the world have reported increased cancer risks in association with its use, especially for soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Research by EPA suggests that babies born in counties with high rates of chlorophenoxy herbicide applications to farm fields are significantly more likely to be born with birth defects of the respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as defects of the musculoskeletal system like clubfoot, fused digits and extra digits. These birth defects were 60% to 90% more likely in counties with higher 2,4-D application rates. The results also show a higher likelihood of birth defects in babies conceived in the spring, when herbicide application rates peak.

Children and pesticides don’t mix. Educate your Member of Congress about the School Environment Protection Act of 2012 (SEPA). Beyond Pesticides believes that this federal legislation will ensure a healthy learning environment for all students. In March, U.S. Representative Rush Holt and colleagues introduced the SEPA, which will protect school children from pesticides used both indoors and on all school grounds nationwide. The legislation also bans the use of synthetic fertilizers. SEPA was first introduced in November 1999 in both the U.S. Senate and House. The bill language is based on state school pest management laws. It also mirrors the structure of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established a national committee to oversee the program as well as an established a list of synthetic substances allowed for use within the program. A form of SEPA has passed the U.S. Senate twice since and, together with other legislation, indicates broad support for a national mandate to stop hazardous pesticide use in schools.

To learn more about this legislation, see Beyond Pesticides’ SEPA webpage or visit Beyond Pesticides Children and Schools program page.

Sources: Oregon Public Broadcasting,

City of Portland’s fluoridation tussle boils over

By Steve Law
The Portland Tribune

Portland City Council’s looming decision to fluoridate water from Bull Run Reservoir could prevent a lot of children from getting holes in their teeth.

But the speedy-quick decision is punching holes in Portland’s relations with Gresham and other communities that buy 40 percent of Portland’s Bull Run water supply.

“We really feel like we got blindsided on this issue,” says Mark Knudson, chief engineer for the Tualatin Valley Water District, the second-largest water utility in Oregon.

The Washington County district, and the dozen other suburban water utilities that depend on Bull Run water, met Aug. 8 with officials from the Portland Water Bureau, Knudson says, and “not a word was said about fluoride.”

They found out about it the next day, when The Oregonian published a story about the stealth lobbying campaign by public health groups to press for fluoridation, and support for the idea from City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who oversees the Portland Water Bureau.

Bad vibes among the 13 suburbs and water districts that buy much of Portland’s water may do little to halt what seems like an inevitable City Council vote Sept. 12 to fluoridate Bull Run water, after a cursory public hearing Sept. 6. But if the public concludes that Portland botched the process — such as by making a decision before taking public testimony or consulting with its largest customers and business partners — that could spur residents to sign petitions to overturn the decision at the ballot box.

Gresham officials are so miffed that they’re threatening to deny their share of the reported $5 million construction cost, plus annual operating expenses, to add fluoride to the water.

“We have been left on the sidelines, learning about the issue in the media, without a viable role in the decision-making process,” Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis wrote in an Aug. 24 letter to Portland Mayor Sam Adams. “Especially given the lack of voice given to the wholesale customers on this issue, I trust that we will not be billed for any expenses associated with this change.”

Talking to customers

West Slope Water District ranks as one of the medium-sized water utilities with long-term contracts to buy Portland water. Yet the suburban Washington County community still serves 14,600 residents and pays $1 million a year to the city, says Jerry Arnold, general manager.

“We’ve always had what I would call a partnership with the city of Portland,” Arnold says. “This certainly runs counter to that. It sure leaves a bad taste in our mouth.”

Leonard says he left it up to Upstream Public Health and other advocates to lobby his peers on the issue, since he has supported fluoridating water since 1975. Then he left for vacation in early August, planning to go public with his support at an Aug. 22 press conference.

“I was going to meet with the wholesale customers before that,” Leonard says. But then the issue got away from him.

“While I was still on vacation,” he says, “the mayor and (City Commissioner) Nick Fish came out and said they would support it.”

That meant the decision was essentially made without so much as a public hearing, or consultation with the other communities that pay $15 million a year for Portland water.

The proposal to fluoridate Portland’s water didn’t come from the Portland Water Bureau, says bureau Administrator David Shaff; it came from the boss who hired him, Leonard. “I wasn’t in a position to say, ‘Hey, this is what’s being talked about,’ “ Shaff says.

Shaff says he first learned about Upstream Public Health’s lobbying effort in February 2011, when fluoride opponents got wind of the underground campaign and appealed to him to oppose it. Charlie White, an opponent of fluoridation who lives in the Tualatin Valley Water District, was the one who approached Shaff.

He assured her his bureau wasn’t pushing fluoridation, White says, but Leonard declined to meet with her.

Leonard and Shaff say the city gets to call the shots on how it runs its water system, under terms of the long-term contracts. The wholesale customers concur, though they say the city consulted them in the past on key policy decisions involving the water system.

“Nobody is contesting the fact that Portland has the power and the ability to pass this,” says Eric Chambers, senior adviser to Gresham Mayor Bemis. “There’s a difference between the ability to do something and the right way to do something. If they were talking to advocacy groups back then, it sure seems like they could have talked to the wholesale customers.”

Leonard says they have a point. “I think they legitimately have an argument they need to know more about what’s going on,” he says.

However, Leonard adds, in the end “they’re going to get fluoride, and that’s part of the cost of delivering the water,” so they must pay for it.

Gresham disagrees. It’s obligated to pay for essential improvements to the water system such as fixing pipes, Chambers says, but adding fluoride is an elective decision. “That would not be covered, we believe, by the terms of the contract,” Chambers says.

Metzger decision

Tualatin Valley Water District isn’t as miffed as Gresham. But it may have more issues with its constituents. The district was formed in 1991 by the merger of two smaller water districts.

Voters in the former Wolf Creek Highway Water District, which serves 183,157 citizens in suburban Washington County, voted 60 percent to 40 percent in 1963 to add fluoride to the water supply. But the 19,439 residents of the other part of the district, in the former Metzger Water District, never took such a vote. Ever since the merger in 1991, district leaders have promised they wouldn’t add fluoride to the Metzger part of the district without a public vote.

Now that appears to be a hollow promise.

Leonard says the wholesale customers won’t have a choice of whether or not to fluoridate the water they get from Bull Run. That’s because it’s far cheaper and easier to add the fluoride at the water bureau’s plant at Lusted Hill, soon after the water flows downhill from the Bull Run Reservoir, and where the bureau already adds chlorine to the water.


Feds Fund Effort To Cool Northwest Waters With Credit Trading

In the not so distant future, farmers and private landowners in the Pacific Northwest could be paid to plant trees to generate shade in watersheds that fail to meet cold water standards for salmon.

Two conservation groups, The Freshwater Trust and The Willamette Partnership, have worked with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to develop a credit market for reducing water temperature in Oregon.

Now the groups have received $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand the project to Washington and Idaho, and to create a standardized thermal credit trading market similar to the existing carbon market.

According to the EPA, more than 35,000 miles of streams and rivers in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho are impaired by warm temperatures.

Proponents of thermal credit trading say the system will create an incentive for cost-effective conservation activities, like tree planting and reducing agricultural diversions, that cool water.

This spring, President Obama gave a shout-out to a novel thermal credit program in Medford coordinated by the Freshwater Trust.

Instead of requiring the city’s wastewater treatment facility to install expensive cooling towers to avoid dumping warm water into the Rogue River, Oregon DEQ approved a thermal credit trade.

The wastewater treatment plant will purchase credits from farmers and landowners who agree to plant trees along a 40 mile stretch of the Rogue River, shading and cooling the watershed.

The Freshwater Trust is overseeing the thermal credit swap using a tool developed by DEQ called the Shade-o-lator) to calculate exactly how much new shade to create and how many trees to plant to counteract the warm water discharged by the wastewater plant. DEQ is requiring the wastewater facility to purchase two units of cooling credit for every one unit of heat it contributes to the Rogue River.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says expanding the thermal credit trading system into Washington and Idaho could improve water quality “in a way that is profitable for farmers and landowners, by encouraging them to participate in conservation and basically paying them for environmental results they can gain.”

The Freshwater Trust and the Willamette Partnership will use the grant to work with regulators to develop a unified set of standards to govern thermal credit trading in the Northwest and to recruit participants into the new market. In theory, if state regulators agree to the approach, power plants and wastewater treatment facilities could buy the credits to help comply with Clean Water Act temperature standards.

The Freshwater Trust aims to develop similar credit trading protocols for other types of water pollution, in particular nutrient and phosphorus pollution, but says that temperature is the easiest water quality problem to tackle with a credit trading market.


Study finds Pacific coastal water is caffeinated

This coffee addiction of ours might be getting out of hand.

A study out of Portland State University found that water just off the coast of Oregon is slightly caffeinated — even though that’s not its natural state. Scientists think the water is contaminated with caffeine because of sewage seeping out to the ocean and septic runoff.

They’re calling it caffeine pollution, and it comes from humans. The study, headed by graduate student Zoe Rodriguez del Rey, indicates that high rainfall and sewer overflows — sometimes in state parks — flush contaminants out into the ocean.

Caffeine levels were measured at 14 coastal locations in Oregon, some of which were near wastewater treatment plants, towns and streams emptying into the ocean.

From Portland State University:

The study found high caffeine levels near Carl Washburne State Park (Florence, Ore.) and Cape Lookout, two areas not near the potential pollution sources, yet low levels of caffeine near large population centers like Astoria/Warrenton and Coos Bay.

High levels were also found following a late-season storm of wind and rain that triggered sewer overflows.

The primary source doesn’t seem to be waste-treatment plants as suspected.

So, is it Oregon’s fault? Looks like it, but that state isn’t the only offender by far. Other studies have noted caffeine in other bodies of water, including the North Sea, the Mediterranean Boston Harbor, Sarasota Bay in Florida and Puget Sound.


Project Pours Water into Volcano to Make Power

Defending Water for Life asks, “Where is this water coming from?”  Also, it seems a little dangerous to us that a likely side effect is earthquakes.  Whether it’s a rural area or not…

by and The Associated Press

Geothermal energy developers plan to pump 24 million gallons of water into the side of the dormant Central Oregon volcano this summer to demonstrate new technology they hope will give a boost to a green energy sector that has yet to live up to its promise. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Geothermal energy developers plan to pump 24 million gallons of water into the side of a dormant volcano in Central Oregon this summer to demonstrate new technology they hope will give a boost to a green energy sector that has yet to live up to its promise.

They hope the water comes back to the surface fast enough and hot enough to create cheap, clean electricity that isn’t dependent on sunny skies or stiff breezes – without shaking the earth and rattling the nerves of nearby residents.

Renewable energy has been held back by cheap natural gas, weak demand for power and waning political concern over global warming. Efforts to use the earth’s heat to generate power, known as geothermal energy, have been further hampered by technical problems and worries that tapping it can cause earthquakes.

Even so, the federal government, Google and other investors are interested enough to bet $43 million on the Oregon project. They are helping AltaRock Energy, Inc. of Seattle and Davenport Newberry Holdings LLC of Stamford, Conn., demonstrate whether the next level in geothermal power development can work on the flanks of Newberrry Volcano, located about 20 miles south of Bend, Ore.

“We know the heat is there,” said Susan Petty, president of AltaRock. “The big issue is can we circulate enough water through the system to make it economic.”

The heat in the earth’s crust has been used to generate power for more than a century. Engineers gather hot water or steam that bubbles near the surface and use it to spin a turbine that creates electricity. Most of those areas have been exploited. The new frontier is places with hot rocks, but no cracks in the rocks or water to deliver the steam.

To tap that heat – and grow geothermal energy from a tiny niche into an important source of green energy – engineers are working on a new technology called Enhanced Geothermal Systems.

“To build geothermal in a big way beyond where it is now requires new technology, and that is where EGS comes in,” said Steve Hickman, a research geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif.

Wells are drilled deep into the rock and water is pumped in, creating tiny fractures in the rock, a process known as hydroshearing.

Cold water is pumped down production wells into the reservoir, and the steam is drawn out.

Hydroshearing is similar to the process known as hydraulic fracturing, used to free natural gas from shale formations. But fracking uses chemical-laden fluids, and creates huge fractures. Pumping fracking wastewater deep underground for disposal likely led to recent earthquakes in Arkansas and Ohio.

Fears persist that cracking rock deep underground through hydroshearing can also lead to damaging quakes. EGS has other problems. It is hard to create a reservoir big enough to run a commercial power plant.

Progress has been slow. Two small plants are online in France and Germany. A third in downtown Basel, Switzerland, was shut down over earthquake complaints. A project in Australia has had drilling problems.

A new international protocol is coming out at the end of this month that urges EGS developers to keep projects out of urban areas, the so-called “sanity test,” said Ernie Majer, a seismologist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It also urges developers to be upfront with local residents so they know exactly what is going on.

AltaRock hopes to demonstrate a new technology for creating bigger reservoirs that is based on the plastic polymers used to make biodegradable cups.

It worked in existing geothermal fields. Newberry will show if it works in a brand new EGS field, and in a different kind of geology, volcanic rock, said Colin Williams, a USGS geophysicist also in Menlo Park.

The U.S. Department of Energy has given the project $21.5 million in stimulus funds. That has been matched by private investors, among them Google with $6.3 million.

Majer said the danger of a major quake at Newbery is very low. The area is a kind of seismic dead zone, with no significant faults. It is far enough from population centers to make property damage unlikely. And the layers of volcanic ash built up over millennia dampen any shaking.

But the Department of Energy will be keeping a close eye on the project, and any significant quakes would shut it down at least temporarily, he said. The agency is also monitoring EGS projects at existing geothermal fields in California, Nevada and Idaho.

“That’s the $64,000 question,” Majer said. “What’s the biggest earthquake we can have from induced seismicity that the public can worry about.”

Geologists believe Newberry Volcano was once one of the tallest peaks in the Cascades, reaching an elevation of 10,000 feet and a diameter of 20 miles. It blew its top before the last Ice Age, leaving a caldera studded with towering lava flows, two lakes, and 400 cinder cones, some 400 feet tall.

Although the volcano has not erupted in 1,300 years, hot rocks close to the surface drew exploratory wells in the 1980s.

Over 21 days, AltaRock will pour 800 gallons of water per minute into the 10,600-foot test well, already drilled, for a total of 24 million gallons. According to plan, the cold water cracks the rock. The tiny plastic particles pumped down the well seal off the cracks. Then more cold water goes in, bypassing the first tier, and cracking the rock deeper in the well. That tier is sealed off, and cold water cracks a third section. Later, the plastic melts away.

Seismic sensors produce detailed maps of the fracturing, expected to produce a reservoir of cracks starting about 6,000 feet below the surface, and extending to 11,000 feet. It would be about 3,300 feet in diameter.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management released an environmental assessment of the Newberry project last month that does not foresee any problems that would stop it. The agency is taking public comments before making a final decision in coming months.

No power plant is proposed, but one could be operating in about 10 years, said Doug Perry, president and CEO of Davenport Newberry.

EGS is attractive because it vastly expands the potential for geothermal power, which, unlike wind and solar, produces power around the clock in any weather.

Natural geothermal resources account for about 0.3 percent of U.S. electricity production, but a 2007 Massachusetts Institute of Technology report projected EGS could bump that to 10 percent within 50 years, at prices competitive with fossil-fuels.

Few people expect that kind of timetable now. Electricity prices have fallen sharply because of low natural gas prices and weak demand brought about by the Great Recession and state efficiency programs.

But the resource is vast. A 2008 USGS assessment found EGS throughout the West, where hot rocks are closer to the surface than in the East, has the potential to produce half the country’s electricity.

“The important question we need to answer now,” said Williams, the USGS geophysicist who compiled the assessment, “is how geothermal fits into the renewable energy picture, and how EGS fits. How much it is going to cost, and how much is available.”


Oregon poised to adopt the strictest standard for toxic water pollution in the U.S.

Published: Thursday, January 06, 2011, 7:53 PM     Updated: Friday, January 07, 2011, 9:55 AM

By Scott Learn, The Oregonian The Oregonian

Oregon is poised to adopt the strictest standard for toxic water pollution in the United States, driven by concerns about tribal members and others who eat large amounts of contaminated fish.

The Department of Environmental Quality proposed the new standard Thursday, nearly two decades after concerns about contamination in fish prompted studies that showed tribal members along the Columbia River eat far more fish than the general population.

The new rule, scheduled for approval in June, would dramatically tighten human health criteria for a host of pollutants, including mercury, flame retardants, PCBs, dioxins, plasticizers and pesticides.

Industry and cities worry about the costs of complying with the new rules and controlling pollution, likely to run in the millions.

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