State agencies respond to tanker spill on highway 22 near North Santiam River

A tanker truck carrying more than 10,000 gallons of fuel overturned Sunday on Highway 22 about 60 miles east of Salem, spilling more than half of its load. An unknown amount was released into the North Santiam River, which provides drinking water for nearby communities and the city of Salem.

A hazardous materials team and emergency cleanup crew from Oregon Department of Environmental Quality were on the scene to pump remaining fuel out of the truck and to prevent more fuel from entering the river. The highway remains closed in both directions at milepost 63 as crews work to contain the site. The Oregon Department of Transportation advises motorists to avoid the area and find alternate routes until further notice.

According to reports the truck, owned by Space Age Fuel, was carrying a variety of fuels in two tanks. The trailer tank held 6,500 gallons of gasoline which has been released and the truck tank held 4,100 gallons of diesel. (Corrected to reflect vehicle and fuel handling.)

Preliminary indications are that all 6,500 gallons of the gasoline was spilled.
Update: Crews recovered about 2,830 gallons of diesel by Sunday evening.

Fuel from the trailer tank was released into a roadside ditch and some seeped into the river.

Health officials are notifying downstream drinking water system providers of the spill.

Crews will continue to evaluate the extent of the spill and determine cleanup options.

Media Contacts:
Harry Esteve, DEQ, 503-951-3856
Lou Torres, ODOT, 503-559-7118


Tips for safely managing debris from flood damaged buildings

Hoja informativa: Manejo seguro de los escombros de los edificios dañados por las inundaciones

Many structures and buildings in Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties, including lands of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, suffered significant damage from recent flooding. Debris from damaged structures can pose a threat to people and the environment if not handled safely.

Tips for safely handling renovation and demolition debris:

  • Use caution when working in or around any damaged building.
  • Keep children and pets away from debris, where they could be exposed to sharp objects, electric shock or hazardous material, including asbestos.
  • Always wear personal protective gear and clothing, including eye protection, gloves and boots.
  • Check with your insurance company before removing debris. The insurance company may be able to assist.

Disposing of waste

Disposal sites that are willing to accept flood debris but that cannot accept asbestos-containing materials are:

  • Umatilla County: Humbert Landfill, Pendleton Transfer Station and Hermiston Transfer Station.
  • Milton-Freewater:  Milton-Freewater Landfill.
  • Union County: Transfer stations in Union, La Grande and Elgin.
  • Wallowa County: Ant Flat Landfill, transfer stations in Joseph, Lostine and Wallowa.

Other regional landfills that can accept asbestos containing materials are: Finley Buttes Landfill in Morrow County; Columbia Ridge and Chemical Waste Management of the Northwest  landfills in Gilliam County (accepts household hazardous waste); Walla Walla Landfill.


Asbestos is in many building materials, and it is difficult to determine which ones. When asbestos is disturbed and improperly handled, tiny fibers are released into the air and may cause lung cancer and other illnesses. Paper masks and bandanas do not filter out asbestos fibers.

Consult with a licensed asbestos removal contractor or call a DEQ asbestos expert at one of the numbers below before disturbing materials that may contain asbestos. Find more info about safe asbestos removal one DEQ’s website.

Mold and indoor air quality

Flood water can make the air in your home unhealthy. This is because when things remain wet for more than two days, they usually get moldy. Inhaling mold can cause adverse health effects, including allergic reactions. Mold also can damage materials in your home. In addition, flood water may contain microorganisms, such as bacteria, or chemicals which may affect your health. (Info from the U.S. EPA.)

Septic systems

U.S. EPA has helpful information on what to do with your septic system after a flood.

Burning of materials

Check with the local fire department before conducting any open burning of construction materials. It is illegal to burn treated wood, asbestos, petroleum-based products, or anything that emits dense or noxious smoke.

Hazardous materials in the environment

If you encounter hazardous materials that may have been released into the environment during the flooding, immediately report the spill or release to the Oregon Emergency Response System (OERS) at 800-452-0311. These items could include labeled or unlabeled barrels or containers of pesticides, fertilizers, oil or other petroleum products. DEQ recommends not handling or attempting to dispose of these items on your own.

Household hazardous waste

Many homes contain small quantities of hazardous waste, including paints, stains, solvents, fuels, antifreeze, aerosols, cleaners, poisons, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, oil filters, rechargeable batteries, fluorescent tubes and bulbs, propane tanks, pool and spa chemicals, thermometers, and mercury thermostats and switches. Please follow all local, state, federal and tribal regulations.

Contact your local waste management company or the department responsible for waste collection in your area for information on household hazardous waste. DEQ is working with local providers and volunteer organizations to schedule special hazardous waste collection events in the counties affected by the floods, contact DEQ for more information.

Drinking water wells

The Oregon Health Authority has information on drinking water safety after a flood.

Recycle when possible

Many buildings are constructed of metal, wood, brick and cinder block. These materials have the potential to be separated for reuse or recycling.


  • Asbestos: Tom Hack, 541-278-4626, or Frank Messina, 541-633-2019
  • Solid waste: Eric Clanton, 541-298-7255 x233
  • Hazardous waste: Brian Allen, 541-633-2014

Additional resources


“There is always a way to help”

Aerial image of J.R. Simplot facility.

On Nov. 19, 2019, Josh Alexander, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Air Quality Permit Writer, convened a meeting at the Sauvie Island School to talk with the community about what they should do if there was an accidental anhydrous ammonia release from a nearby facility, J.R. Simplot. The meeting featured an 11-person panel. Two things were notably unusual about this meeting: nine people on the 11-person panel were not from DEQ and the two who were never had to answer a single question. I sat down with Josh to talk about why this meeting was so important and what lessons DEQ could learn from it.

Q: What happened that led to the meeting?

Josh: A group of concerned citizens affiliated with the Sauvie Island Neighborhood Association responded to a notice for public comment for the J.R. Simplot facility. It seemed that their concerns were probably outside the scope of our permit. I decided just to contact them – it was only four comments. I reached out to each one to get a better sense of what their concerns were. Through those conversations, it was readily apparent that their concerns were related to seismic resiliency, emergency preparedness and emergency response – all things that were largely outside the scope of the air quality permit.

We decided to offer a community engagement meeting as an alternative to a public hearing, since a hearing would be limited to issues within the scope of the permit. I talked to the neighborhood association about their options and what a community engagement meeting would mean as opposed to a public hearing. I tried to convey that a hearing would not address their concerns, whereas a community engagement meeting would allow us to broaden the scope of discussion.

Q: What was their response to the idea initially?

Josh: They were a little hesitant at first, because they didn’t want to give up their right to something. They wanted to know why they couldn’t have both. I tried to emphasize the fact that the meeting would best address their concerns. I had that conversation a couple of times. Of course, they weren’t precluded from having a hearing. I think, in getting comfortable with me, they let go of the feeling of needing to have a hearing. They just needed an agency’s attention.

They were looking for a voice and wanted someone to listen to their concerns.

Q: I didn’t realize that they were hesitant at first. Sounds like they were worried about us avoiding our regulatory requirement.

Josh: I think that they didn’t want to be punted down the line. They’d had a previous meeting with the facility and had reached out to other agencies, and didn’t get the results they wanted.

Q: It seems like that attitude changed as you started planning the meeting.

Josh: The attitude quickly changed. I think they found me to be someone that was supporting them in their desired outcome. They got excited about what it could be and, as they saw it develop, they became increasingly enthusiastic. Seeing that there were representatives from various agencies that were willing to participate made the community feel like they were being heard.

Q: How did you decide who to invite?

Josh: That was the hardest part to figure out. I really had to cast a wide net. I got a couple of leads, took those, and started calling and emailing. Folks were gracious in helping direct me to the right person. I found them to be very grateful to know that there was someone out there willing to do this legwork and coordinate the logistics.

Q: Who all ended up on the panel?

Josh: It was a long list, but everyone had a vital role to play. There were representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Multnomah County Emergency Management, Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal, Portland Fire and Rescue, Sauvie Island Fire District, Local Emergency Planning Committee and then J.R. Giska and myself from DEQ.

And people stayed after the meeting. I think everyone stayed at least half an hour afterwards to talk and connect with community members. It felt like no one in the community was left needing more time or more information.

Q: Based on this experience, what would be your advice to others in the agency?

Josh: There is always a way to help. We get a lot of random calls. People call DEQ because they don’t know who else to call. In this case, the group knew they could respond to the public notice and ask for a hearing. Usually, people just want to have a voice. We are public servants and there is always a way to help. It’s hard to navigate the system. At DEQ, that’s something we really have to consider and recognize the importance of how we communicate with people on a day-to-day basis.

Lastly, time is limited in our work and we are all trying to figure out how to use it most efficiently. And, yes, it took a lot of time to set up this community meeting and figure out the logistics. Did it take more time than getting ready for a public hearing? Maybe a little, but I think it was fairly equitable. My hope is that by connecting the community to the agencies, the meeting served DEQ and the community better in the end. I think if we’d gone the public hearing route, we would have left a lot of people frustrated and they would have gone on to try to use future hearings as a mechanism to discuss their concerns. In the end, a little help can go a long way and ultimately help all parties.

− Lauren Wirtis, public affairs specialist


(Video) Oregon. There’s a lot to protect.

At the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, we have one mission: to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water. That’s no small job.

—Video produced by the DEQ communications team: Harry Esteve, Laura Gleim, Susan Mills, Dylan Darling, Lauren Wirtis, Jennifer Flynt


Oregon EV rebate program charges ahead

Expanded rebates will make it more affordable for Oregonians to buy new or used electric cars.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality yesterday announced it is now processing all Charge Ahead rebate applications, which are available to low- and middle-income households, as part of the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program. While DEQ has distributed Standard rebates since late 2018, the Charge Ahead rebate applications have been stored in a queue while the agency retained a contractor with the security standards required to protect financial data. DEQ has now retained the Center for Sustainable Energy, a non-profit clean energy program administrator, to manage the rebates, as well as develop an easy-to-use digital dashboard and marketing strategies to expand consumer awareness.

“The Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebates Program has already issued more than $9 million in Standard rebates since launching in December 2018,” said Ali Mirzakhalili, air quality division administrator, DEQ. “With CSE’s extensive and secure infrastructure, rebates will now go out more quickly. We hope these rebates will encourage more Oregonians than ever to purchase zero emission vehicles and partner with us to improve air quality while saving money.”

The Oregon Clean Vehicle Program has two types of cash rebates for drivers who purchase or lease electric vehicles. The first is the Standard rebate, which gives $1500 or $2500 back for the purchase or lease for a new battery electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The vehicle’s battery capacity determines the rebate amount. Additionally, a purchase or lease of a zero-emission electric motorcycle qualifies for a $750 rebate.

Next is the Charge Ahead rebate, which gives $2500 back to low- or moderate-income households when they purchase or lease a new or used battery electric vehicle. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles purchased on or after Sept. 29, 2019 also qualify for this rebate. DEQ has an Income Eligibility Calculator that can help determine if a household is qualified for money back. CSE is processing applications in the order they were received, beginning with those submitted in 2018. It is currently contacting all Charge Ahead applicants via email to request proof of household income.  

“We are proud to assist Oregon DEQ in their efforts to extend electric vehicle rebates to low- and moderate-income residents who are often the most impacted by transportation emissions and the least able to purchase a cleaner car,” said Lawrence Goldenhersh, president of the Center for Sustainable Energy. “The added value of these rebates, in particular the Charge Ahead rebate for used EVs, will help greater numbers of Oregonians to make more sustainable personal transportation choices while supporting state and local goals for cleaner air and reduced fossil-fuel emissions.”

In addition, the Environmental Quality Commission, DEQ’s policy and rulemaking board, recently made permanent previously temporary rules, which broaden the definition of a “household” and allow more people to apply for the Charge Ahead rebate.

“Currently, transportation accounts for nearly 40 percent of Oregon’s greenhouse gases,” said Gov. Kate Brown. “In order to help lower our emissions to our targets, it’s vital to make sure that we are doing all we can to provide viable and affordable alternatives for sustainable transportation, including participating in the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program.”

Last August, DEQ and other state agencies announced that Oregon had registered more than 26,000 electric vehicles, marking more than halfway to Governor Brown’s goal of 50,000 electric vehicles registered in the state by the end of 2020.

Since 2018, DEQ has received $12 million a year for the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program through funding generated from a tax imposed on car dealers. The program and annual subsidy will end on Jan. 2, 2024.

— Susan Mills, public affairs specialist


OSU-Cascades begins reclaiming former landfill for campus expansion

Oregon State University’s Cascades campus began full-scale excavation at the former Bend Demolition Landfill in December as part of its expansion master plan.

The landfill contains mostly wood waste and sawdust from Bend’s old mills, and test results reviewed by DEQ show the soil from the landfill can be safely reused as filler for new areas of campus. This allows OSU to reuse soil it already owns rather than having to purchase and transport additional soil from elsewhere. It’s also a boon for the environment.

“Soil itself is a natural resource, just like water. So if we can avoid using it, all the better,” said Bob Schwarz, DEQ cleanup project manager.

OSU will screen out the soil from the demolition waste and use it to raise the ground level of the adjacent former pumice mine for the first phase of the expansion. Some of the landfill soil will be blended with clean soil or pumice to ensure it has sufficient strength to serve as a foundation layer for future buildings.

DEQ issued a Beneficial Use Determination in December allowing OSU to use the landfill soil as a filler. Site development will include raising the elevation of the pumice mine floor by about 40 feet. OSU plans to expand its newest campus over portions of the former pumice mine and the demolition landfill.

“Future plans will include removal of the deeper waste on the east side of the landfill, which has been a concern because it generates a lot of heat as it decomposes,” said Schwarz. “That phase of the development will address the primary environmental issue at the landfill.”

OSU purchased the former landfill from Deschutes County under a Prospective Purchaser Agreement with DEQ in 2018. The agreement set requirements for safely removing waste from the landfill for the planned campus expansion.

DEQ’s Bob Schwarz, David Anderson and Ron Doughten are overseeing this work. Tracy England, Charles Kennedy and Scott Yankey are inspecting the construction.

Find more info about the site on the Bend Demolition Landfill ECSI page.

– Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist


DEQ takes crucial step to improve health of Willamette Basin

After several years of research, outreach, data analysis and effort, DEQ’s water quality team issued on Nov. 22 a revised plan called a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, to reduce mercury in the Willamette Basin. (See OPB coverage) One week later, the EPA sent DEQ a letter disapproving the TMDL. EPA now has 30 days to issue its TMDL.

“DEQ is disappointed with EPA’s action,” wrote Jennifer Wigal, deputy administrator for water quality. “Implementation of DEQ’s revised TMDL would be protective of Willamette Basin streams, eventually meet water quality standards throughout the basin and continue to reduce mercury levels and make it safer for communities to eat fish from the river basin. DEQ’s revised TMDL represented a balanced approach, informed by scientific research and substantially more data than the 2006 TMDL.”

DEQ will continue to work with EPA to understand the implications of this action to ensure that an EPA plan meets the goal of protecting the health of people who consume fish from the Willamette Basin. DEQ will continue to communicate with affected parties as details of the process forward are clarified.

The Willamette Mercury TMDL website has more information, including the EPA letter.


What is the future of recycling in Oregon?

Dozens of recycling thought leaders gathered in Salem to hear about ways to modernize Oregon’s recycling system.

Dozens of Oregon recycling representatives gathered in Salem on Jan. 31 to learn about potential options for a future recycling system in Oregon. 

The information session was part of the multi-year Recycling Steering Committee project, which is convened by DEQ and facilitated by Oregon Consensus, a program of Portland State University and the National Policy Consensus Center. About 175 people attended in person or by webinar, including state, regional and local governments, recycling collection companies, material processors, manufacturers and environmental nonprofit groups.

Oregon’s recycling system was heavily disrupted in 2018 after China and other international markets began restricting their acceptance of many materials. Since then, DEQ and its partners have been working through the steering committee to make recommendations to update and modernize Oregon’s recycling system. The goal is to ensure the recycling system creates benefits for the environment, is strong and adaptable to change, and restores and maintains public trust.

Resource Recycling Systems, the researcher working on behalf of the steering committee, presented results from their in-depth analysis of several potential options for a future recycling system. These options include policy changes, contracts and agreements, which the steering committee will consider for the state’s future system.

In their analysis, the researchers evaluated five potential scenarios, which include a range of government and producer responsibility options for financing and operational control of the system. The scenarios were each evaluated against 16 key “functions” that the steering committee would like to see a future recycling system achieve – such as resiliency, shared responsibility, equitable access, integration and transparency.

Next step: the steering committee will begin seeking consensus in mid-March about a recommendation for a path forward, based on the scenarios offered by Resource Recycling Systems research and input from participants throughout the process. Stay tuned to the project website for updates. The full in-depth evaluation is available online here.

— Sanne Stienstra, material recovery specialist


Retired Prairie City landfill gets upgrade thanks to Orphan Site Account

An old landfill outside Prairie City will get necessary upgrades this year thanks to funding from DEQ’s Solid Waste Orphan Site Account.

DEQ will reimburse the eastern Oregon city up to $100,000 for improvements to the landfill, which closed in 2016. Prairie City will use the funds to reinforce the landfill’s run-down soil cover and reconstruct drainage ditches to prevent stormwater from flowing over the site and causing further erosion.

These improvements will prevent people and wildlife in the area from coming into contact with waste—and protect them from the associated health risks.

The Oregon legislature created the Solid Waste Orphan Site Account in 1989 to support projects where the responsible parties are unknown, unwilling or unable to complete necessary cleanup or maintenance. The program is funded by a 13 cent per ton fee on tipping rates for solid waste disposed in Oregon.

Eastern Region’s Matt Slafkosky, Bob Schwarz and Ron Doughten are overseeing the project. They expect the landfill to begin construction late spring or early summer.

– Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist


DEQ is 2nd in state for most public record requests

Kristen Mercer, left, and Leela Yellesetty handle thousands of public records requests every year.

Every hour of every day, on average, DEQ receives a public records request. In 2018, the agency received a total of 4,635 separate requests for data, emails, reports and other documents – making it second only to the Oregon State Police for volume of requests among state agencies.

On the receiving end are Leela Yellesetty, public records officer, and Kristen Mercer, public records coordinator, whose job is to ensure a timely response, whether the request comes from a news reporter, a member of the public or anyone else with an interest in DEQ’s work.

“One of the things I love about working in public records is getting to see all the diverse and important work taking place across the agency,” says Yellesetty. “It’s impressive.”

Additionally, she says, public access to DEQ’s records help “showcase our work to the broader community. It’s also a great way for us as an agency to get a pulse on what the public is interested in so we can get them the information they need in new and better ways.”

Every document produced at DEQ is considered a public record, although a small fraction may be exempt from disclosure. People request records from DEQ for all kinds of reasons. A contractor wants to know about storm water permits at a certain site before building or remodeling. A reporter wants access to emails regarding a recent spill. A real estate agent needs documentation on an underground storage tank.

Yellesetty and Mercer make every attempt to fill the request within a few days, and nine out of 10 are filled within 15 business days.

Mercer credits public records coordinators within each DEQ program and region for the quick handling of record requests. “They do the heavy lifting,” she said. “For instance, we just got 203 requests from one company, and they are taking it in stride. They truly are the ones who get these requests completed in a timely manner.”

In other words, it’s a team effort, she said. According a recent survey, some 60 percent of DEQ staff had helped respond to a public records request.

Yellesetty and Mercer recently sent out an anonymous survey to DEQ records requesters. The vast majority of responders expressed satisfaction with how their requests were handled. Here is what one had to say:

“Of all the agencies I have requested info from, DEQ is the most outstanding. I told that to the Governor’s public records task force committee. They already had heard that DEQ was an example of outstanding transparency. Thanks!”

And, DEQ is working to respond even faster by investing in a new system to modernize the public records request process. The new system will include an online portal where the team can interact with requesters, including posting records directly online.

“It will also allow self-service for some requests,” Yellesetty said. “Our goal is to provide the best service we can to the public.”

— Harry Esteve, communications manager


DEQ to play a big role in upcoming legislative session

The State Capital Building Adorned With The Oregon Pioneer With
The 2019 legislative session gets underway Feb. 3

The biennial “short session” of the Oregon Legislature opens Monday, Feb. 3, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will figure prominently when the gavels come down in the House and Senate.

“This session will be framed by the climate conversation,” said Annalisa Bhatia, senior legislative advisor for DEQ. At stake is proposed carbon “cap and trade” legislation, currently contained in a bill similar to one that prompted a walkout by Senate Republicans during last year’s legislative session.

One difference, however, is that DEQ would be given oversight authority of the cap and trade program, should the bill pass in its current form. In previous sessions, the legislature considered creating a separate agency to oversee the program.

The carbon reduction bill is one of hundreds that will be introduced during the 35-day session, which is expected to last through the first week of March. Already nearly 300 bills have been introduced, with more coming every day, Bhatia said. Of those, more than 30 are directly or indirectly related to DEQ – primarily on the water quality side.

One issue that could get significant attention is the testing of water systems for cyanotoxins from harmful algae blooms, which disrupted Salem’s drinking water supply in 2018 after appearing in Detroit Lake. Bhatia says there will be legislation to bolster DEQ lab’s water testing capabilities through investment.

Also on the docket is a bill to create a product stewardship program for mattresses and additional grant funding for onsite low interest lending.

The pace can get hectic because there is little time to meet bill deadlines, Bhatia said. “It’s a whirlwind,” she said. But it’s also exciting and critically important to DEQ and the rest of the state.

“What I like about it is, everyone is talking about how to make the best policy for Oregon and how to make it a better place,” she said.

Joining Bhatia is the office of policy and analysis team of Matt Davis (air), Abby Boudouris (land) and Rian Hooff (water). We wish them luck!

— Harry Esteve, communications manager


Turning water into beer

Washington County’s recycled water can now be used by breweries and distilleries to make beer, whiskey and other adult beverages.

DEQ recently approved Clean Water Service’s request to expand their high purity recycled water program, allowing CWS to provide this water to commercial brewers and distilleries to produce alcoholic beverages for sale to the general population. This decision broadens DEQ’s approval in 2015 to allow home brewers to use this same process in a competition for distribution at trade shows.

Clean Water Services is the water resources management utility serving urban Washington County.  CWS uses a process that takes the highest quality of recycled water in state regulations from one of their four water resource recovery facilities and subjects it to a treatment train of ultrafiltration.

“CWS’ mobile treatment system—the Pure Water Wagon—utilizes a four step process of ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet disinfection and advance oxidation to produce high purity water that is cleaner than drinking water,” said Mark Jockers, Government and Public Affairs Director for CWS.

DEQ’s water quality and Oregon Health Authority’s drinking water programs have reviewed and approved this treatment process for creating water that meets or exceeds federal and state drinking water standards. The same process is used in parts of Texas, New Mexico and California for domestic drinking water supplies.

“The use of recycled water can improve water quality by reducing discharges to rivers and streams and decreasing demand on clean water not being used for drinking,” said Pat Heins, DEQ’s Water Reuse Program Coordinator.

Since DEQ’s 2015 approval, Oregon Brew Crew has held five annual Pure Water Brew competitions for home brewers using the CWS high purity water. The pioneering work by CWS, Oregon Brew Crew and DEQ has spawned similar efforts worldwide with utilities partnering with home and commercial brewers in Florida, Arizona, Colorado, California, Idaho, Kentucky, Singapore and Portugal. In 2017, CWS joined other utilities, consultants, equipment manufactures and brewers to form the Pure Water Brewing Alliance to advance sustainable water management globally.   

The U.S. Brewers Association has reported that Oregon has 284 craft breweries (10th in the nation), which generated 1.03 million barrels of beer, or 32 million gallons (9th in the nation). Beer is 90 percent water and, according to the Brewers Association, it can take three to seven gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer at the brewery.

“We must judge water based on its quality, not its history,” said Jockers. “We are producing water that is fit for purpose—water that can be returned to environment; water for irrigation—even water for beer.  Water should be defined by its purpose, not its history or the level of treatment that it has received.”

Commercial brewers are scheduled to begin brewing with 100 percent pure recycled water in 2020 with the official launch scheduled at the 33rd Annual Oregon Brewers Festival at Portland’s Waterfront Park in July. 

“As our brewers are fond of saying, ‘all water aspires to be beer,’” added Jockers. “But this water really deserves it!”

Lauren Wirtis, Public Affairs Specialist


Concrete crusade: DEQ’s initiative to reduce carbon emissions with a different kind of concrete

Businesses and governments looking to reduce their carbon footprint are turning to an unlikely source: concrete. The ubiquitous product—used in roads, bridges, buildings and sidewalks—is responsible for about 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

“Concrete is the second most consumed substance on Earth after water,” said Jay Mustard, materials management specialist for DEQ’s Eastern Region. “We pave a lot of this planet.”

Now concrete producers, with the help of DEQ, are measuring and reporting the environmental impacts of different mixtures to meet market demands for greener concrete.

Traditional concrete mixtures use cement as the glue that holds the rocks and sand together. Cement is derived from limestone, which is naturally high in carbon dioxide. When limestone is heated to very high temperatures during the cement production process, it releases its naturally occurring carbon dioxide. About half of the carbon emissions produced during this process are from the limestone itself, with the other half coming from the fossil fuels burned to generate heat for the kiln.

Lower-carbon formulas use a cement alternative like slag, a byproduct of steel manufacturing that would otherwise be headed for a landfill. There are several other substitutes that also have significantly lower carbon emissions than cement. These alternatives can reduce carbon emissions from concrete up to 50 percent and are usually available at a similar price.

Jordan Palmeri, senior policy analyst in DEQ’s Headquarters, has worked with local Oregon concrete producers, including CalPortland, Hooker Creek and Knife River, to develop Environmental Product Declarations for several concrete mixtures. These third-party certifications provide consumers information about the environmental impacts of making the product—similar to nutritional labels on food products.

Having an Environmental Product Declaration scores points in the LEED green building rating system and is a selling point for local governments and businesses that have carbon reduction goals. DEQ runs a voluntary program with the Oregon Concrete and Aggregate Producers Association that provides concrete producers with resources and financial incentives to develop these declarations.

“This is one of these options where the technology, materials, opportunity is there — it just needs to be used more,” said Palmeri.

Because of DEQ’s work, the city of Portland recently passed an ordinance requiring concrete Environmental Product Declarations to be submitted on all city construction projects, and the city of Bend incorporated recommendations about concrete into its forthcoming Climate Action Plan, which the Bend City Council is scheduled to vote on early this winter.

Mustard is also advising Facebook’s sustainability director on the possibility of using low-carbon concrete for the massive data centers Facebook is building in Prineville and other locations around the world.

“Getting cities and businesses to switch to low-carbon mixtures can have a huge impact,” said Mustard. “And I think they’re going to do it.”

Learn more about the tools DEQ and partners developed to support low-carbon concrete at the Oregon Concrete Environmental Product Declaration Program webpage.

— Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist


DEQ opposes rollbacks of Clean Water Act regulations

On Oct. 21, 2019, Gov. Kate Brown sent a letter to the Acting Administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency detailing opposition to proposed changes to section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Section 401 gives the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and tribes the authority to issue water quality certifications for projects that require a permit that may result in a discharge to waters.

“Water quality certifications are required for any activity that is obtaining a federal permit or license and will, or has the potential to, impact waters of the state,” said Steve Mrazik, DEQ Water Quality Program Manager. “They’re how we ensure that projects will meet the state’s water quality standards, which is why the Clean Water Act allows for state input and conditions on these projects.”

DEQ worked with the governor’s office to articulate what these changes would mean for Oregon’s water quality. The letter highlights a number of significant concerns, including:

  1. Limiting activities that require water quality certification to point sources only
  2. Hindering states ability to include conditions for approval and allows federal agencies to dismiss conditions
  3. Restricting application review time regardless of project complexity or completeness of the application
  4. Lacking meaningful input from the states

There are many potential consequences if these changes go into effect. “If this were to be implemented, it would impact water quality in Oregon,” Mrazik said. “Additionally, Oregon has created some innovative solutions to promote water quality while working with permitees, but limited timeline and ability to enforce conditions would undercut these efforts.”

The governor’s letter is a clear request of EPA to reconsider rolling back regulations that work well.

“The State of Oregon requests that EPA give due consideration to the grave and significant concerns raised in this comment letter, withdraw its unlawful proposed rule, and sit down in a meaningful collaboration with the states to define what problems need to be fixed.”

EPA will be reviewing comments received in the fall before making a final decision in May 2020.

-Lauren Wirtis, public affairs specialist


Deeper dive on health of Oregon’s waterways

DEQ released its most comprehensive evaluation yet of the health of Oregon’s rivers, stream, lakes and other waters.

Water quality and DEQ lab staff made significant improvements to the Integrated Report on Surface Water Quality and List of Water Quality Limited Waters, including a more robust analysis. The report is available this year in a new digital and fully interactive format, which offers tremendous amounts of information in a more user-friendly format.

The report provides a unique opportunity for the public to understand the overall status of Oregon’s water quality and gain a better understanding of how DEQ is maintaining, improving and protecting Oregon’s waters.  

Some highlights to note in this report:

  • DEQ held its first statewide request for data submission since 2004/2006
  • DEQ reviewed and included data from over 70 organizations comprising 7 million rows of data and 140 different pollutants
  • The most widespread water quality impairments continue to be temperature, dissolved oxygen, and E. coli
  • For the first time, the entire Oregon coastline appears in the report as an area of concern for acidification

DEQ submitted the report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval after public comment ended in December 2019.

Cleanup continues at North Santiam fuel spill site

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality continues to oversee cleanup and monitoring near the site of a Feb. 16 truck crash and fuel release on Highway 22 about 60 miles east of Salem.

Of the 10,600 gallons of fuel on board the double tanker, 7,871 gallons spilled and the remaining fuel was recovered. Fuel is discharging from the bank of the North Santiam River and a sheen is visible for a few hundred feet downstream of the crash site.

Crews began excavating contaminated material this morning and will evaluate disposal options.

About 400 feet of hard boom and other absorbent materials are in the river to contain and collect fuel. DEQ will continue to monitor potential impacts to fish and wildlife at and downstream of the site. There have been no reports of impacts to drinking water supplies in the area.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s On-Scene Coordinator and contractors are providing the water sampling data for hydrocarbon by-products at two- and four-mile intervals in the North Santiam River downstream of the crash site.

Oregon Highway 22 will remain closed to through traffic from just west of Idanha to the junction with U.S. 20 (milepost 53-81) until at least Friday or Saturday of this week, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. This morning, ODOT was able to assess the damage and determined that it will take several days to remove contaminated soil and repair the road where the truck crashed.

An area of roadway about 600 feet long needs to be excavated and rebuilt. Motorists traveling to and from the Willamette Valley and Central Oregon can use U.S. 20 and OR 126E as alternative routes.