Massive hills of pinkish red rock stand along a lonely dirt road in far southeastern Oregon, near the Nevada border. They’re beautiful, reminiscent of Oregon’s treasured Painted Hills.
But there’s one big difference: these rocks are toxic.
The hills are not actually hills at all—they’re piles of mercury mining waste from the old Opalite Mine, one of four historic mercury mines in the area that left piles of the contaminated material, called calcine, after they stopped operating. The waste piles contain the heavy metals arsenic, mercury and antimony. Dust from the rocks is hazardous if inhaled.
For years locals would haul off truckloads of rock from these former mercury mines to use as fill for roads, driveways and landscaping. In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completed a $1.2 million Superfund cleanup in the nearby town of McDermitt, Nevada, and on the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation, where the calcine had been used on residential properties, unpaved roads and at the town’s school.
Until last summer, anyone could wander by or seek out the old Opalite Mine. In August 2020, EPA, with support from Oregon DEQ, secured and restricted access to the Opalite Mine—the last of the four mercury mines where people could still come across contaminated gravel.
“Our goal was to reduce access to the site because it’s dangerous,” said Bryn Thoms, DEQ cleanup project manager who oversaw the operation. “There are the heavy metals plus the hazards from the pit and old mine buildings themselves.”
Vehicle access is now restricted to the site by gates, berms and a bypass road that goes around the site. EPA and its contractors also installed restricted access signs to notify people of the hazards, and removed, stabilized and reburied a pile of mine waste that contained extremely high concentrations of contaminants.
“I’m just glad we were finally able to finally do something about the contamination at this site,” said David Anderson, DEQ Eastern Region cleanup manager, who worked for decades on site analysis and securing funding for the operation. “EPA stepped up with funding and construction crews so we could get this site secured.”
A 2003 “Orphan Site Designation” that Anderson worked on deemed the former mine owner unable to pay to maintain or cleanup the site, and allowed for DEQ to take on some of those costs. DEQ used Orphan Site funds to investigate the extent of contamination and do some initial work to stabilize the site. Anderson was able to secure additional funding via EPA’s Removal Program, which was enough to complete the summer 2020 construction that restricted access. DEQ will use Orphan Site funds for ongoing maintenance of the site, gates, signage and bypass road.
The Beaverton School District and Portland General Electric have partnered to bring the first two electric school buses to Oregon. Each vehicle will cut about 52,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. That means students, drivers and neighborhoods will breathe cleaner air and overall air quality will improve.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Fuels Program aims to encourage the use of cleaner fuels, such as electricity, ethanol, biodiesel, renewable diesel and renewable natural gas by providing incentives, or credits, and requirements to create demand for cleaner fuels. PGE’s Electric School Bus Fund raises money through the sale of those credits, which the utility aggregates on behalf of customers who charge their electric vehicles at home.
“We are so grateful to work with partners like PGE and the Beaverton School District to reduce the impacts of climate change and improve air quality,” said Cory-Ann Wind, manager for DEQ’s Clean Fuels Program. “The delivery of these two buses marks the official launch of school bus electrification in Oregon.”
In 2020, PGE’s Electric School Bus Fund also awarded grants for electric buses, charging infrastructure and technical and training support to the Reynolds, Salem-Keizer, Portland and Newberg school districts.
Applications for the 2021 round of Electric School Bus funding open on April 15.
For more details on the Clean Fuels Program, visit our website.
–Susan C. Mills and Dylan Darling, public affairs specialists
Across the state, students are beginning to head back to in-person schooling, and that means more and more school buses are returning to the roads. As such, Oregon DEQ is working to make that transportation cleaner and safer for those children and the environment.
Recently, the agency announced it has expanded the range of buses eligible for its Diesel School Bus Replacement Grant Program to engine model years 2002 through 2007. It is estimated more than 1,100 school buses now qualify for funding, including those from school districts that previously applied for and were awarded grants.
The program’s goal is to replace, retrofit or re-power at least 450 dirty diesel school buses in an effort to protect human health and improve air quality by reducing harmful emissions. A 2015 DEQ report details health benefits for students travelling on lower emissions buses, including improved lung function and reduced incidences of bronchitis and asthma, with resulting decreases in absenteeism.
“More efficient diesel engines burn up to 95% cleaner than the older, dirtier versions. That’s a significant improvement,” said DEQ Air Quality Administrator Ali Mirzakhalili. “By broadening the number of diesel engines that qualify, we are encouraging school districts to work with us to upgrade even more of their bus fleets for the benefit of their students and the environment.”
Funds allow buses to be replaced or equipped with exhaust control technology to reduce particulate matter emissions. In addition to having more efficient and lower emission engines, the vehicles comply with the Oregon statute (ORS468A.796¹) requiring cleaner burning diesel school buses ahead of a 2025 deadline.
DEQ’s Diesel Bus Replacement Grant Program receives funding through the VW Diesel Emissions Settlement. Each award reimburses 100% of the cost to retrofit or 30% of the cost to replace qualified school bus diesel engines. School districts across the state, including Clackamas, Eugene 4J, Milton-Freewater and Salem-Keizer, have already used grants to update buses.
Since its launch in early 2018, the grants have supported the replacement of 259 diesel school bus engines across more than 65 Oregon school districts. An additional 87 school bus engines are in the process of being approved for replacement. Prior to today, only 2005 to 2007 model year engines were eligible to have diesel engines replaced, retrofitted or re-powered.
From the extraordinary pandemic to the intruding smoke from massive wildfires, 2020 presented Oregon DEQ’s vehicle testing inspectors with demands they had never before encountered. Through ingenuity, flexibility and teamwork, they were able to move from standard operating procedures to an entirely new set of safety protocols and disinfection guidelines, all while maintaining the high quality of service and efficiency for which they are known.
Vehicle Inspection Program employees are Oregon DEQ’s frontline workers. They work with the public six days a week to ensure that fewer and fewer emissions and hazardous pollutants enter the environment. We are grateful for their service.
Crater Lake and Waldo Lake have always stood out as waters in Oregon.
Crater Lake, the namesake for the only National Park in the state, has clear blue water. The deep lake fills a volcanic caldera. Waldo Lake, nestled into the Cascades near Oakridge, holds exceptionally clear water. So clear that it is like distilled water.
The value of the pristine waters held by Crater and Waldo lakes is undeniable. But now it is official and the lakes have added state protections after action taken Thursday by the Environmental Quality Commission. The rulemaking board, which oversees the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, voted 4-0 to designate Crater Lake and Waldo Lake as Outstanding Resource Waters.
“Crater Lake and Waldo Lake are unique and invaluable treasures for Oregonians and the world,” said DEQ Director Richard Whitman. “Their crystal clear clean waters represent the best of Oregon’s natural beauty. By designating the lakes as Outstanding Resource Waters, Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission is assuring that these special places will remain unspoiled for present and future generations.”
It is only the second time the commission granted the special status to waters in Oregon. Crater Lake and Waldo Lake join the North Fork Smith River in Southwest Oregon as Outstanding Resource Waters. The commission classified the remote river, which begins in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, and its tributaries in 2017.
The Outstanding Resource Waters designation for Crater Lake and Waldo Lake prevents activities that would potentially harm water quality at either lake. It prohibits permitted discharges into the waters, except for short-term stormwater permits for construction. The designation also prohibits any new discharges, with the exception of those resulting from public health or safety emergencies or restoration and improvement projects. Existing recreation and tourism activities will continue at both lakes.
“It’s an honor to grant additional protection to two of Oregon’s natural wonders, Crater Lake and Waldo Lake,” said EQC Chair Kathleen George. “This special recognition will preserve the natural habitat, cultural and recreational benefits of these amazing places for future generations.”
The vote on Thursday came in response to a citizen petition submitted to the commission by the Northwest Environmental Defense Center in 2019. The nonprofit called for protections for Waldo Lake and the commission added Crater Lake to the proposal. The ruling amends Oregon’s water quality standards to ensure that the current high water quality and exceptional ecological characteristics and recreational values of these waters are protected.
Both lakes offer exceptional clarity and vibrant blue waters. While most lakes in the United States have visibility of less than 30 feet, Crater Lake and Waldo Lake have average visibilities of more than 100 feet. Both lakes are treasured recreation and tourism hotspots.
Outstanding Resource Waters are high quality waters with extraordinary character and ecological or recreational value. They may also be critical habitat areas. The state has the authority to designate Outstanding Resource Waters as part of the Oregon’s water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act.
Crater Lake is at the heart of a National Park and Waldo Lake is wholly contained in the Willamette National Forest near the crest of the Cascades. The Outstanding Resource Waters designation by the State of Oregon will complement and support the protections provided by the National Park Service for Crater Lake and the U.S. Forest Service for Waldo Lake.
Among the largest natural lakes in Oregon, Waldo Lake is also one of the most pure lakes in the world, according to the Forest Service. It is a gem worthy of protection.
“The Willamette National Forest places high importance on protecting the water quality of Waldo Lake and has a history of protecting this area,” said Middle Fork District Ranger Molly Juillerat. “We also value the recreational, educational and scientific opportunities that the Waldo Basin provides.”
Surrounded by cliffs, Crater Lake is fed entirely by rain and snow. Scientists consider Crater Lake to be the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world. At a depth of 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. The water’s intense blue color is an indication of its great depth and purity.
Crater Lake National Park Superintendent Craig Ackerman said the National Park Service was pleased to have the opportunity to work with DEQ on the designation of Crater Lake as Outstanding Resource Waters.
“(DEQ’s) early engagement with the park allowed us to collect input from a number of experts within the NPS and Department of the Interior to ensure that the designation provided the highest level of protection for park waters consistent with the mission and mandate for the Service,” Ackerman said. “We look forward to continuing our exceptional relationship with DEQ and other state agencies in seeking to protect the park and its resources in perpetuity.”
– Dylan Darling, DEQ Western Region public affairs specialist
A new interagency report shows a drop in pesticide levels in a majority of watersheds across Oregon monitored by a coalition of state agencies. The finding is contained in the 2017-19 Biennium Report, which looks at pesticide levels in selected streams in various parts of Oregon.
The report is authored by an interagency water quality management team making up Oregon’s Pesticide Stewardship Partnership. The program has been working to reduce the levels of pesticides in watersheds through voluntary partnerships. Their report is based on more than 1,000 surface water samples collected and analyzed for 129 pesticide compounds, including 57 herbicides, 40 insecticides, ten fungicides, and 16 pesticide concentrations.
Nearly 70 percent of the sites tested showed a measurable improvement, meaning pesticides were detected less frequently and in lower concentrations than in the prior two years. Fourteen percent remained unchanged. About 17 percent of the watersheds showed more frequent detections or more detectable pesticide concentrations. Monitoring locations are not random across the state. Areas of concern for pesticides are prioritized, and sites change depending on where detections are thought more likely to occur.
The report attributes the improvements to the success of the program’s efforts at the local level to combine pesticide monitoring with training and tools for landowners – principally farmers – to help reduce the amount of pesticide runoff in streams and rivers. The program is a non-regulatory, voluntary partnership between state, local and tribal agencies and private stakeholders to address water quality concerns connected to pesticide use.
One aspect of the program which may be helping lower the occurrence of pesticides are grants given for projects designed to prevent pesticides from entering water systems in farming and other areas. These grants fund projects that provide farmers and other pesticide applicators training to reduce pesticide drift and runoff and switch to lower risk alternative pest control methods. Previously, grant funds have been used to obtain equipment that help farmers see where their equipment is spraying – and where it is wasting – chemicals, so they can make adjustments and save thousands of pounds of chemicals from being wastefully sprayed and possibly enter nearby water bodies.
About the Water Quality Pesticide Management Team The team addresses water quality issues in Oregon related to pesticide use with representatives from the following agencies:
• Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) • Department of Forestry (ODF) • Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) • Oregon Health Authority (OHA) • Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) • Oregon State University (OSU)
–Jennifer Flynt, public affairs specialist, and the Water Quality Pesticide Management Team
Nearly 20 organizations around the state can now step up their efforts to reduce waste, increase reuse and repair, rescue food and support responsible recycling.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality awarded $595,168 in grants to 17 organizations to boost projects that benefit Oregon’s communities and environment.
“DEQ is proud to support innovative projects that reduce waste and provide educational and economic opportunities in Oregon,” said Lydia Emer, DEQ land quality administrator. “These grants serve communities all around the state that don’t otherwise have the resources they need to do this important work.”
Funded projects include:
• CJ’s Training Camp through the Loopt Foundation in Portland, which focuses on eliminating waste in the apparel industry. CJ’s Training Camp will use its $23,243 grant to introduce students, many from historically underserved communities, to the full environmental impact of clothing manufacturing by focusing on Portland Trail Blazer star CJ McCollum’s game jersey. Ultimately, students will develop and pitch their own sustainable business to reduce the environmental and human health impacts of apparel.
• The Library of Things, a new library collection of nontraditional items at the Salem Public Library. The $43,300 grant will allow the library to purchase and develop a borrowing system for items like cooking pans and appliances, yard and garden tools, electronic devices, games and toys and sewing equipment.
• Mobile Recycling Program in Wallowa County. The $38,381 award will support a new part-time position and the purchase of a new trailer and bins to collect sorted recyclable material from local schools, community events and businesses for delivery to Wallow County’s Recycling Center.
“Wallowa County is thrilled to receive a Materials Management grant from DEQ. As a rural county in remote, northeastern Oregon, we struggle to provide the same services as urban areas,” said Katy Nesbitt, Wallowa County director of natural resources and economic development. “This funding will help us capture more clean, sorted, recyclable material, provide a part-time position in an economically distressed area, and provide increased opportunities for solid waste education.”
DEQ has awarded more than $9 million in materials management grants since 1991. Many of the projects serve economically distressed and historically underserved communities. The program moves the state toward its 2050 Vision for Materials Management, and plays a critical role in engaging Oregon communities in sustainable materials management practices.
— Jennifer Flynt and Laura Gleim, public affairs specialists with Marie Diodati, grant coordinator. Marie joined DEQ in 2018 to coordinate the Materials Management Grants program. She is an advocate for a more relationship-oriented, human centered approach to the business of protecting the environment.
My name is Jean-Karlo Lemus, and I’m fairly new to Oregon. I’ve spent time in Pennsylvania and Georgia, but I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. The trek from the Caribbean to the Pacific Northwest has been a… transition to say the least.
Oregon’s forests and mountains are not unlike the forests and mountains of my native municipality, Arecibo. Just more coniferous instead of tropical. People ask me all the time, “What do you miss about home?” I would definitely have to say Puerto Rico’s geology.
One of the first things that comes to mind when it comes to Puerto Rico’s natural resources are its beaches, but Puerto Rico has other treasures that lay further inland. Within eyeshot of the shores are Puerto Rico’s central mountain ranges: miles and miles of rainforest peppered with misty mountains. Even as you approach the shoreline, the terrain in the north never fully flattens, and hills pepper the horizon. In Spanish, these hills are called “mogotes.” In English, we call them “karsts”.
I can’t tell you what Puerto Rico’s sediment is like—I was a paleontology-kid, not a geology-kid. But I think the clay up in the mountains is, well, clay? And burrowing into the taller mountains reveals a wealth of tiny fossilized shells and quartz crystals, sometimes hunks of the stuff the size of a grapefruit. Karsts, I am told, are limestone formations peeled away, revealing the stone within. It’s like someone cutting into a beef wellington, only instead of crust and beef it’s green with stone layers.
Karsts are natural geological developments, caused by tremors and landslides. As the quakes of December 2019 showed, Puerto Rico is on a fault zone. But they can also be man-made. The northern karst range is a mixture of both. When Route 22 was being constructed to facilitate transit towards San Juan in the East, the easiest path to take was straight through the northern karsts, which were blasted to make way for the roads. As you drive along, you’ll notice that the exposed sections of the karsts are steepled from this construction work.
The range stretches several miles, extending past the greater Arecibo area and further eastward towards Manati. They pepper the roadsides along with hills and farmland, until the central forest turns to cities.
Besides being really pretty, the karsts are an important part of Puerto Rico’s environment. Foliage still grows on them, making them home to smaller mammals or birds. Their presence also helps regulate the weather, to an extent, facilitating rainfall and regulating temperatures in the local area. They also help buffer some of the winds that come in from the shore.
Their biggest threat, sadly, is housing. Puerto Rico’s population is just under three million, and the need for affordable housing never quite ends. The quickest solution many go for is gated housing, creating large neighborhoods of homes. Unfortunately, these take up a lot of space, which is at a premium in the island. Too close to the shoreline, and you risk damages from hurricanes and flooding. But too far inland and you have to contend with the tricky terrain and faulty infrastructure of the central rural areas. The south of the island presents the difficulty of being farther from the northern ports and traveling through mountains, so the only available space for gated neighborhoods is in the vicinity of karsts. The good news is, recent efforts have protected Puerto Rico’s geological formations. The bad news is, it’s still an uphill battle to preserve them.
Between Puerto Rico’s rapid industrialization in the 1950s and other outside influences, Puerto Rico’s infrastructure isn’t the most forward-thinking. It’s mostly been in recent years that greater efforts have been taken to preserve our karst ranges and to establish nature preserves in the northern coast. I can say that seeing our natural formations bulldozed isn’t something I miss about Puerto Rico. Oregon’s efforts in preserving its forests are a hard-fought victory, and I’m glad they exist. It’s the kind of thing I wish we had more of back home.
— Jean-Karlo Lemus, a native of Puerto Rico, started work in March 2020 at Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as a receptionist at DEQ headquarters. He enjoys writing about cartoons when he’s not at work.
A new report from DEQ’s Laboratory shows water quality data for groundwater aquifers in the Walla Walla River Basin in Oregon.
The basin straddles northeast Oregon and southeast Washington. DEQ sampled water from 100 residential and agricultural wells on the Oregon side and detected 41 different chemicals in the water, including pesticides, metals, nutrients and bacteria. Some of these chemicals, such as low levels of minerals, naturally exist within water, and others are contaminants.
Most contaminants detected in this study were at levels below EPA drinking water standards, but nitrates, lead and bacteria exceeded health standards in some wells.
DEQ shared individual water quality results with the well owners where the agency took samples, along with educational materials about EPA drinking water standards and well maintenance. Groundwater contaminants in drinking water wells could indicate that wells need repair or that there are nearby sources of contamination, such as failing septic systems or pesticides, fertilizers, manure or household chemicals applied to the land.
Oregon does not have water quality regulations for private wells. Homeowners are responsible for maintaining their wells and ensuring the water is safe to drink. Oregon only requires that domestic wells are tested for nitrate, arsenic and bacteria during real estate transactions.
“Many people rely on groundwater for domestic, industrial and agricultural reasons. We want to get a baseline understanding of the quality of Oregon’s aquifers, and hopefully going forward get trending data to understand how those aquifers may change over time,” said Paige Haxton-Evans, DEQ statewide groundwater quality monitoring coordinator and report author.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced the agency’s plan to preserve their weak standards on how much “soot” – or fine particulate matter – can be released into our air. This is a public health failure and the result of ignoring scientific evidence that a stronger standard is needed to prevent more disease and death.
Health impacts associated with high levels of PM2.5 (fine particulates) are documented through thousands of studies, most of which are cited in EPA’s own assessment of current science. Impacts include permanent impaired lung development in children and impaired cardiovascular and lung function in adults and seniors. These impacts are associated with high incidences of asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, nervous system effects, cancer and premature death. Recent studies are finding associations of ambient air pollution and fine particulate air pollution with adverse birth outcomes such as still births and low birth weights, diabetes, and impaired neurodevelopment and cognitive function.
A study published in August 2018 in Environmental Health Perspectives reviewed the extensive environmental health literature and found a significant association of local air pollution with daily deaths in 135 U.S. cities, including Portland. For PM2.5, the study found that for every incremental increase in pollution concentration there was a corresponding and measurable increase in daily deaths, even on days with fine particle levels well below the existing standard. Increased COVID-19 related mortality and morbidity also has been associated with increased particulate matter pollution concentration.
EPA arrived at its final decision by ignoring the latest science and comments from many public health and environmental agencies, including those submitted by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon Health Authority. The federal Clean Air Act requires that EPA set the soot standard at a level necessary to protect public health and allow an adequate margin of safety. Retaining the current standards fails to deliver that objective.
So why did EPA choose this path when the agency’s mission is to improve air quality? One cynical possibility is that tightening the soot standard could make the agency look bad. One way EPA measures success is to count the number of non-attainment areas in the country – those are the areas that fail to meet air quality standards. When standards are strengthened, more areas fall out of attainment. But the real measure of success should be improving air quality. Policy shouldn’t be dictated by the potential for bad optics, but instead should be guided by science and the public interest.
This decision will likely face legal challenges and we urge the incoming administration to reconsider this decision and return EPA to real environmental protections that are supported by science and protect our air and our health.
Ali Mirzakhalili is the administrator of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Program.
More than a dozen experts with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality are preparing to participate in 13 of 32 sessions on environmental protection, compliance, new technologies, sustainable business practices and trending policy issues Dec. 8-9 during the Business and Environment Conference sponsored by DEQ, Washington Department of Ecology and the Northwest Environmental Business Council.
DEQ staff will bring a wide range of experience to the table to discuss with panelists and attendees during the virtual conference.
To give our readers a sense of the scope of DEQ’s subject matter expertise we’re sharing a little bit about the issues DEQ’s staff and others will tackle starting with an introduction of DEQ’s Director, Richard Whitman (left).
Director Whitman will join Tony Barber, Director of Oregon Operations for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 and Rich Doenges, Southwest Region Director, Washington State Department of Environmental Quality, to kick off the conference during the “Meet the Regulators” session.
Names of Panels and DEQ staff participants
Clean Air Act Permits
Matt Hoffman and Patty Jacobs from DEQ’s Air Quality Division will discuss when an air quality permit is required, how to get it and how to keep it through compliance and other permit elements.
Introduction to Clean Water Act Permits Panel
Jeff Navarro and Geoff Rabinowitz from DEQ’s Water Quality Division will cover the fundamentals of water quality permitting, an overview of the Clean Water Act, the framework and drivers of the National Pollutant Discharge System permit program regulations, the permitting application process, watersheds, and more.
Using Due Diligence Strategically
Cheyenne Chapman from DEQ’s Land Quality Division will moderate a session on environmental liabilities in property transactions which can make or break a deal. She will lead the discussion on how to identify and manage environmental risks and options for quantifying, managing and/or resolving those risks.
RCRA: Dangerous Waste Fundamentals
Brian Allen in DEQ’s Land Quality Division will participate in a session covering the basics of hazardous waste regulation with a focus on the underlying Resource Conservation and Recovery Act statute and Washington/Oregon state regulations. The discussion will cover waste identification, generator status, proper accumulation, labeling, record keeping and compliance.
Navigating the Enforcement Process
Jeff Bachman in DEQ’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement will discuss how an administrative enforcement action works. This panel will present a skit on negotiating a civil penalty assessment and order involving environmental violations.
PFAS: Current & Future State Agency Actions
Kevin Masterson from DEQ’s Land Quality Division will discuss the current state of rulemaking, regulation, environmental assessment and pollution prevention efforts related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in water supplies, products and more.
Advanced Stormwater: Changes in 1200-Z
Krista Ratliff in DEQ’s Water Quality Division is currently working on a rulemaking to renew the 1200-Z Stormwater Discharge General Permit. This panel will cover the permit renewal process and changes to expect in the renewed permit.
Conversation on Environmental Justice and Social Equity
Ann Farris from DEQ’s Land Quality Division in the Western Region office will talk with panelists and attendees about environmental justice and social equity. She will share how environmental justice and social equity principles have been incorporated into DEQ projects.
Cleaner Air Oregon
Keith Johnson, DEQ Air Quality Division, will participate in a panel on Oregon’s comprehensive air toxics regulatory program, Cleaner Air Oregon, which just celebrated its two year birthday. This panel will spotlight CAO’s implementation to date, and consider where the program will go from here.
What’s Up With the Clean Water Act?
Justin Green, DEQ’s Water Quality Administrator, will discuss the impacts and implications of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the County of Maui, the Environmental Protection Agency’s revised Waters of the United States rule, and EPA’s modifications to the Clean Water Act 401 Certification rules. This will be a round-table discussion on how Washington and Oregon are dealing with these changes.
Oregon’s Cap and Reduce Program: What’s on the GHG Horizon
Colin McConnaha, DEQ’s Office of Greenhouse Gas Programs, will discuss program development, framework, and implications, focusing on what the program is likely to mean for sources in Oregon. In March 2020, Gov. Brown issued an executive order directing DEQ to take actions to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including implementation of a cap and reduce program to reduce state GHG emissions to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.
Managing Compliance & Continuity in Challenging Times
Kieran O’Donnell, DEQ’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement Manager, will discuss how these challenging economic times are affecting the stability of the environmental sector. The panel will cover what and how constraints have impacted operations, agency engagement, compliance and enforcement, and strategies for adapting best practices to create continuity and keep moving forward.
Modernizing Oregon’s Recycling System
David Allaway and Sanne Stienstra, in DEQ’s Materials Management Program (Land Quality Division), will talk about the Recycling Steering Committee that convened in response to unprecedented recycling market disruptions that had a profound impact on recycling programs throughout the Pacific Northwest. This presentation will summarize the committee’s process, innovative research conducted for the project, the group’s consensus recommendation, and DEQ’s draft legislative concept for modernizing Oregon’s recycling system.
Your DEQ Online: A New Cloud-Based System for Doing Business with DEQ
Harry Esteve, DEQ’s Communications Manager, will lead a panel comprised of the following DEQ staff:
Justin Green, Water Quality Administrator, Travis Luckey, Chief Information Officer, Angel Gillette, Your DEQ Online Project Manager, Christine Svetkovich, Water Quality Manager and Mitch Frister, Your DEQ Online Project Team Member. This panel of subject matter experts will share insights about DEQ’s move toward a central online hub to streamline the way we accept, process and share information. DEQ’s new Environmental Data Management System, called Your DEQ Online, will provide an easy and intuitive online system for connecting to DEQ. The first phase of the project is scheduled to go live in March 2021.
The Clean Waste State Revolving Fund is one of 33 conference exhibitors.
CWSRF staff will be available to discuss the programs work. CWSRF supports communities by funding projects that improve water quality and environmental outcomes for the State of Oregon. The program is dedicated to working with small communities and on projects that increase financial and environmental sustainability, climate resiliency and water and energy efficiency.
Business & The Environment focuses on industry-wide issues and is a collaborative endeavor presented by DEQ, Northwest Environmental Business Council) and Washington Department of Ecology. The conference is the region’s largest environmental conference and expo.
The series of wildfires that roared through Oregon in September destroyed thousands of residences and other structures. The cleanup process that will allow families and businesses to rebuild is well underway. Here’s an update on the progress, and DEQ’s role.
Two-step debris removal process – DEQ is part of the Debris Management Task Force, along with Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon Emergency Management, that is overseeing the removal of the ash and debris left when the fire destroyed structures. The two steps are 1) household hazard waste removal, and 2) remaining ash and debris removal.
Step 1: Household hazardous waste removal – Under contract from FEMA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hired crews of experienced haz mat teams to go through burned properties and remove hazardous items, such as propane tanks, car batteries, ammunition, fertilizer and other materials that might endanger workers in Step 2. Property owners who signed permission papers received this service for free. The work is nearly complete and EPA is getting ready to stand down.
Step 2: Ash and debris removal – ODOT is in the final stages of approving contracts for crews to finish the cleanup work by scraping and hauling away the remaining fire debris. Part of the work entails removing trees that might pose a hazard to workers and the public, and those contracts already are in place. Trees are being marked with barcodes that guide what will happen to them. Some will be used for erosion control, some for needed woody debris in streams to provide habitat, and others for lumber.
Natural and cultural resource protection – DEQ, along with the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Oregon Department of Forestry, is overseeing protection of natural and cultural resources that could be threatened by the aftermath of the fire, including cleanup activities.
DEQ’s role will focus on water quality, such as preventing debris from entering drinking water systems and ensuring septic systems remain safe and protective of water quality. DEQ is also working with Oregon tribes to ensure protection of cultural resources.
DEQ has on-scene coordinators and watershed coordinators in all of the basins affected by the fires to assess highest needs and priorities for the work.
DEQ Director Richard Whitman recently stumbled on a 1958 KGW-TV documentary Crisis in the Klamath Basin. According to the Oregon Historical Society, the piece broke important new ground for television and the young producer, Tom McCall, who later would serve eight years as Oregon governor. McCall’s first documentary followed shortly after Congress voted to begin terminating treaty tribes, and previewed the disestablishment of the Klamath reservation of over a million acres.
“It was fascinating,” Whitman said. “I had never seen that kind of first-hand narrative about how tribal members felt about losing their reservation, losing their rights as a sovereign nation.”
The historic agreement to fund the removal of four lower Klamath River dams, announced Tuesday, represents a huge step forward in restoring not just miles of free-flowing rivers and lakes for fish, but also restoring some part of the cultural and social identity that the Klamath River tribes have had taken from them over the last 100 years.
“I view the tribes as leading stewards of our environment and natural resources here in the Pacific Northwest,” Whitman said. “They have never lost their connection to the land and water and the life that depends on them.”
“I view the tribes as leading stewards of our environment and natural resources here in the Pacific Northwest,” Whitman said. “They have never lost their connection to the land and water and the life that depends on them.”
That’s why the agreement signed Tuesday – which makes it clear that the owner of the dams, Berkshire-Hathaway/PacifiCorp, supports dam removal, along with Oregon and California – is such a big deal.
“It’s the states and Berkshire-Hathaway all saying: We are all in on restoring this resource to the tribes. This is a critical leading edge in the effort to put the environment in this part of Oregon back into balance.”
The Klamath salmon run once was the third largest in the nation, but the numbers have dwindled to near extinction levels after the dams were built cutting off hundreds of miles of habitat, and as water quality has steadily gotten worse.
“Their reservations were taken from them, their use of forest resources was taken from them and, over time, the fisheries are being taken from them,” Whitman said about the region’s tribes.
DEQ has a big responsibility to improve conditions in the Klamath, which runs nearly 260 miles from Klamath Falls through northern California. The dams create stagnant pools, which increase water temperature and contribute to harmful algae blooms and disease.
Removing the dams will have benefits rippling throughout the watershed, paving the way for fish to return to the upper basin, and opening the door to economic opportunity for the entire community. However, more work remains to be done, and a next area of focus needs to be on working with farmers and ranchers in the basin to reduce nutrients that have overwhelmed Upper Klamath Lake, Whitman said.
“DEQ will have a central role in that work, along with the Department of Agriculture and local leaders,” he said. “We know the community can collaborate when it has a shared vision for a better future, and working with PacifiCorp and other partners we are beginning to help build a clear picture of a future that has a place for everyone.”
Before the global pandemic and the Oregon wildfires this year, Angela Rowland was working full-time as a Water Quality Permitting Policy Analyst at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
The job she signed up for on Oct. 1, 2019 quickly morphed into something no one could’ve expected. This year, while continuing her water quality program work, she also became one of the most valuable players on DEQ’s COVID-19 and Wildfire Response and Recovery teams.
“Angela has been the absolute guiding star of DEQ’s emergency response planning section and Incident Command team,” according to Kimberlee Van-Patten, who has been leading the planning effort for both the COVID and wildfire responses.
Deployed on April 1 to an Incident Command System team for DEQ’s COVID-19 response efforts, Rowland served as the Resource Unit Leader in the Planning Section. Her research on COVID-19 science-based information meant DEQ could provide accurate updates on the agency’s response to the coronavirus, keep staff safe and continue to protect public health and the environment. Her work included developing new protocols for fieldwork and inspections to determine what essential work could still be performed safely.
On Sept. 15, DEQ set up an Incident Command team for Wildfire Response. “I remember that I was busy collecting data from the COVID-19 staff survey on DEQ’s response when the Labor Day wind storm stirred up the worst Oregon wildfire disaster on record,” Rowland said. She said it was hard to grasp the full scope of the disaster, which left thousands without homes and burned roughly 1.07 million acres of Oregon forests. “My family had a camping trip reserved at Detroit Lake for Labor Day, and our hearts are broken for the town of Detroit (which was destroyed) and all across Oregon,” she said.
She serves as the Documentation Unit Leader in the Planning Section to ensure that every deliverable is tracked and she coordinates the regular “situational updates” to keep all staff informed of the wildfire response and recovery efforts. Rowland said, “I want to provide managers and staff with as much information as possible to help them in their everyday work, be it for COVID-19 precautions or staff getting phone calls from the public who are concerned about asbestos in their burned out home.”
In any crisis, information swarms in from every direction. The need to make sure it goes up the chain of command just as fast requires someone who can create clarity amid chaos. That’s Rowland!
“I see a bright future for Angela Rowland here at DEQ,” Van-Patten says. “We are lucky to have her on our team.”
In her free time she enjoys watching Star Wars, playing board games with her two kids, walking her dogs, camping, gardening, and telling “mom” jokes.
If you have been wondering if the Willamette River Basin is safe for swimming, the overall answer is yes. However, whether or not the river is pollutant-free, requires more of a deeper dive.
This week, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality released the Willamette Basin Toxics Monitoring Summary. It combines water, sediment and tissue sampling results from DEQ’s Toxics Monitoring Program in the Willamette River Basin from 2008 to 2010 and 2016. The goals of the assessment are as follow:
Get a snapshot of pollutants in the Willamette River Basin to help understand trends
Use the data to identify potential sources
Make the information available to the public
Work with internal DEQ groups, community groups and those living in Oregon to identify opportunities to reduce the pollutants
Between the two studies included in the summary, 238 samples were collected from 47 monitoring locations. They were analyzed for various chemical groups, including current-use and legacy pesticides, consumer-use products, combustion by-products, dioxins and furans, flame retardants, industrial chemicals, PCBs and metals. The monitoring locations were divided into three sub-basins (Lower, Mid and Upper) to give attention to the diverse regions of the Willamette Basin.
In 2016, water samples were collected three times (spring, summer and fall), while sediment and tissue samples were collected once. Also, tissue samples, crayfish and mussels were collected to help gain an accurate picture of the environment at each sampling location.
Legacy pesticide concentrations remain high when compared to concentrations in the 2008-2010 study. Legacy pesticides are banned from use, indicating residual sources in the basin.
Mercury found in crayfish at the Willamette River at the St. John’s Bridge location exceeded DEQ’s human health criterion. The criterion assumes a consumption rate of 175 grams per day. This area is part of the Portland Harbor Superfund site.
Mercury found in crayfish at the Willamette River at Marion St. location exceeded DEQ’s human health criterion.
Concentrations of DDT exceeded its sediment benchmark across the Mid-Willamette basin. Concentrations at this level are not expected to adversely affect human health.
High concentrations of the herbicide diuron detected in water from Lake Creek do not pose a risk to human health.
DEQ detected 152 chemicals in sediment collected downstream from a stormwater outfall near Maurie Jacobs Park. The detected chemicals were not found at concentrations that pose a risk to park users.
Based on the results of this study, 11 monitoring locations were selected to become part of the Toxics Monitoring Program’s trend network. It consists of 60 monitoring sites across the state, representing each major river basin, as well as locations with elevated concentrations of chemicals of concern and background locations. DEQ’s Laboratory will collect water samples at these sites three times annually. Sediment and tissue samples will be collected once annually. All sampling depends on Lab resources and approval to travel during the pandemic.
Western states and provinces along the Pacific Ocean will gather virtually this year for the Oil Spill Task Force 31st Annual Meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. The event is open to the public and attendance is free of charge. To register, go to: http://oilspilltaskforce.org/task-force-events/annual-meeting/
Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force was authorized by a Memorandum of Cooperation in 1989 by Governors of Alaska, Oregon, Washington and California, and the Premier of British Columbia following the Nestucca oil spill in 1988 and the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.
On Dec. 22, 1988, the tug, Ocean Service, collided with the barge, Nestucca, which spilled more than 230,000 gallons of fuel oil into the Pacific Ocean near Grays Harbor, Washington. The resulting oil slick dispersed over 800 square miles from Grays Harbor north to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada and south to Oregon.
The catastrophic spill of the tanker Exxon Valdez occurred in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. These two events highlighted in a dramatic way the vulnerability of the West Coast states and British Columbia to spill risks from coastal marine traffic. Awareness arose of the importance of cross-border coordination and cooperation, and the need for firm commitments to protect the unique marine resources of the region.
To develop strategies to adapt to changes in oil movement and risks, the Task Force began collecting data on spills greater than a barrel (42 gallons) in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington in 2002. In 2017, tracking of the number of spills of less than a barrel began.
Comprised of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawaii, the Task Force provides a forum where members can work together to help protect 56,600 miles of coastline stretching from Alaska to California, including the Hawaiian Islands. They are united in their efforts in oil spill prevention, response, preparedness and recovery across the West Coast.
This year the Annual Meeting will focus on how COVID-19 has changed the Task Force’s work and operations, and lessons learned from responding to spills and conduction exercises in a virtual world.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began removing hazardous waste from burned homes and businesses in Jackson County in mid-October 2020. This is the first step in the wildfire cleanup and rebuilding process. Hazardous waste cleanup is available at NO COST to property owners. Property owners must sign a Right of Entry form with their county to allow cleanup crews on their property.
Jackson County sustained the majority of Oregon’s damage from the 2020 Labor Day fires. Cleanup crews started work in Jackson County, then expanded to other areas of the state.
The State of Oregon’s Debris Management Task Force is overseeing a coordinated effort by federal, state, and local government agencies to address hazardous waste and debris removal. The task force consists of the Office of Emergency Management, Oregon Department of Transportation, and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
When the Almeda Fire began ripping through the Bear Creek Valley in Southern Oregon, John Vial called his wife and daughter from his desk at the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center to tell them they needed to evacuate from their home. “My wife asked me what she should take,” said Vial. “I told her I don’t care, leave everything. Just get out and get to a safe place. Do it now.”
Vial’s home survived the fire. Thousands of others in Jackson County did not.
Vial is the director of the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center, and has been tirelessly leading wildfire recovery efforts for the county.
Jackson County sustained over 60% of the state’s damage from the 2020 Oregon wildfires—losing over 2,400 homes and 173 businesses. The towns of Talent and Phoenix were especially hard hit, with entire subdivisions completely destroyed.
Members of Oregon’s Debris Management Task Force traveled to Jackson County last week to meet with Vial and survey the damage in these communities.
What we saw was absolutely devastating: block after block after block of homes and businesses completely destroyed. The occasional brick chimney stood intact among gray fields of ash and debris, twisted metal and car skeletons. Eighteen mobile home communities were wiped out—many of them low-income, over 55, or Latinx communities.
“We really are in a category of our own. I want people to see it, because it helps you understand the level of devastation we’re dealing with here,” said Vial.
To put things in perspective: the Phoenix-Talent School District estimated last week that about 30 percent of its students lost their homes to wildfire. 30 percent. That number has been fluctuating, and could be even higher.
The Debris Management Task Force consists of the Oregon Department of Emergency Management, Department of Environmental Quality, and Department of Transportation. Core members include Brian Boling of Oregon DEQ and Mac Lynde of ODOT, Alyssa Carrier and Cameron Morris of AC Disaster Consulting, which is a contractor for OEM, and two public information officers, Lauren Wirtis and myself, Laura Gleim, who both work for Oregon DEQ.
The goal of the task force is to help ensure that people can return to their homes and their lives as quickly as possible – but that is going to take time and a lot of hard, hands-on work. Beginning next week, crews from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will begin removing hazardous materials from properties whose owners have signed right of entry forms through their respective counties. First up is Jackson County, with crews expanding to other counties in the coming weeks. Once the hazards are cleared, the properties will be ready for step two in the cleanup process: full removal of the remaining ash and debris. Then people can rebuild.
Seeing the destruction up close left us stunned—but also more determined than ever to help Oregon recover from its worst natural disaster in modern history.
As we prepare for Oregon’s Brownfields and Infrastructure Summit on Oct. 5 and 6, we’re taking a look back at some of the work carried out by the Department of Environmental Quality. The Northwest Environmental Business Council, summit host, invited nearly a dozen DEQ staff to speak at the event. “The summit brings together those working to make contaminated properties economically viable for reuse and demonstrate the interconnectedness of basic infrastructure with community and economic development,” NEBC.
What is a Brownfield?
Brownfields are properties that are not being used to their full potential because of known or suspected environmental pollution. Brownfields are often left idle due to fears about liability and expense of assessment and cleanup.
Cleaning up and reinvesting in Brownfields protects the environment, reduces blight and brings valuable property back to use. It can also provide services, such as industrial or commercial development, house or open spaces for playing fields and parks.
Brownfield redevelopment success stories
In the City of Astoria, Oregon sits one of DEQ’s many Brownfield redevelopment success stories. The Garden of Surging Waves, a public park, took the place of part of an abandoned city block known as Heritage Square. The Garden honors Chinese immigrants who worked in the canneries and other industries in the early 1900s.
Thanks to a $400,000 Brownfields grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2012, the City of Astoria had funds to pay for environmental assessment and remediation/cleanup of the Heritage Square block.
The City worked with DEQ and a consultant on plans to collect soil and groundwater samples to understand the extent of contamination.
The property had an interesting past. It was once the home of an automobile repair garage and paint shop, a used car sales business, a dry cleaning establishment, a newspaper printing company, and a Safeway grocery store. The grocery store was demolished in 2005 and five years later the remains caved 10 feet below street level.
Previous uses left behind soil and groundwater contamination. Soil and testing showed that these past uses resulted in releases of petroleum and solvents to the soil and groundwater beneath the Heritage Square block and adjacent streets.
After the remediation/cleanup, the new community gathering space opened on May 17, 2014. The Garden of Surging Waves is phase 1 of the project. Additional cleanup is needed prior to development of the remainder of the site, which is expected to be public space.
Satellite imagery is proving to be an effective and essential tool to detect harmful algal blooms, or HABs, in Oregon’s lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Brian Fulfrost, a water quality analyst with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, has led an effort to add satellite imagery to a series of tools that a new team of specialists are using to monitor and assess potential cyanobacteria HABs.
Cyanobacteria HABs are blue green algae that can produce toxins and odors depending on conditions including warm temperatures, slow water flow and strong light. HABs have reportedly caused the deaths of dogs and made humans ill. DEQ monitors, samples and tests waters to look for the presence of HABs and to identify potential risks.
“Improving our ability to detect imminent harmful algal blooms in lakes and reservoirs will allow us to better protect human health, local economies, and ecosystems throughout Oregon” says Dr. Daniel Sobota, water quality analyst at DEQ. Sobota is leading an effort to create an early warning system to detect HABs across Oregon. Part of that effort includes collecting satellite data and correlating the results with on-the-ground monitoring at multiple lakes and reservoirs in the upper Deschutes River basin in central Oregon.
DEQ is using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN), which includes access to satellite imagery data from mid-2016 to present. Fulfrost saw the opportunity to use satellite imagery of HABs as a more efficient way to support the work DEQ and OHA do to help evaluate, along with sampling and expert opinion, when potential public health advisory on recreational and drinking water safety might be warranted.
“This tool has enhanced our ability to protect water quality throughout the state. The satellite imagery can provide cyanobacteria counts for about 60 lakes within Oregon,” says Fulfrost. “The tool calculates the potential volume of cyanobacteria every one to two days within water bodies using the imagery.”
The satellite alone cannot detect toxins in cyanobacteria, but it is possible with additional monitoring methods, including sampling and a strong team. Sobota helped assemble the Harmful Algal Bloom Coordination Team this year to improve the agency’s HABs monitoring program and water quality projects such as developing pollution reduction plans and the analyses involving satellite imagery.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is proud to support Oregoin’ Electric, a statewide electric transportation awareness campaign. In partnership with the Oregon Clean Fuels Program, Portland General Electric and Pacific Power launched the campaign and its supporting mobile gaming app in August.
It’s part of an ongoing effort to make electric transportation accessible to all people in Oregon. The campaign and app aim to inspire people to choose electric as part of their everyday routine— now and into the future.
The app is available to download now at the Apple App and Google Play stores. App users virtually explore electrified points of interest across Oregon and play for prizes while learning how to get around on electric bikes, buses, cars and more on a daily basis.
Players engage with electric transportation content through Learn, Play and Share features to earn points, advance levels and unlock prizes. Through gameplay, players earn recognition at individual, county and statewide levels.
In addition to being prompted to engage in daily games, players can discover electric transportation initiatives suited to their interests through the app’s Explore feature.
Download today at the Apple App and Google Play stores and level up to win before gameplay ends on Oct. 31, 2020.
By prioritizing river health, clean water and equitable and inclusive community involvement, a river can be one of a community’s greatest assets.
A total of 14 projects to reduce pollution in the Columbia River Basin watersheds will get $2 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which includes $800,000 for six Oregon-based restoration projects, EPA announced in September.
Watersheds, also known as a catchment or river basins, are the entire upstream land area that drains to a certain point on a river. A healthier basin benefits humans as well as struggling salmon populations.
“Our rivers and waterways are at the heart of our communities, and if they are dirty and polluted, our homes and schools and businesses are dirty and polluted,” said Merkley. “A clean and healthy Columbia River Basin is good for our health, our environment, and our economy.”
Even at a time of economic downturn, a pandemic and more devastation from wildfires, prioritizing river health, clean water and equitable and inclusive community involvement is still critically important.
The Oregon-based grant recipients and projects are:
• PNW Pollution Prevention Resource Center, is receiving $88,304 to reduce pollutants from automotive and landscaping industries in the Portland metro area.
• Salmon Safe in Oregon is receiving $200,000 to address pesticide and erosion reduction, habitat protection and enhancement, and facilitate farmer certification.
• Multnomah County is receiving $174,045 to support pesticide reduction outreach efforts in the lower and middle Columbia River, Deschutes, Willamette, Hood watersheds, and southwest Washington, including development of bi-lingual outreach materials.
• Lower Columbia River Estuary Program is receiving $67,597 to fund the deployment of Grattix boxes that will reduce zinc and copper run-off to the lower Columbia River in St. Helens and Rainier, Oregon and Longview, Washington.
• Cascade Pacific Resource, Conservation & Development is receiving $199,999 to build green stormwater infrastructure to reduce metals, PAHs, and pesticides in run-off in Lane County.
• Columbia Riverkeeper is receiving $91,991 to fund pollution prevention education with a focus on youth outreach in Hood River and Wasco Counties and Klickitat County, Washington.
In addition to these six projects, two Washington-based recipients have projects that will also benefit Oregon’s waters.
For more about the Columbia River Basin Restoration Program and grantees, please visit: EPA’s website.
Today let’s remember all those who have suffered losses, and again pay tribute to the firefighters who are working so hard out there. And let’s work together to improve the conditions that have such dangerous potential.
People across Oregon have been suffering the impacts from unprecedented wildfires throughout our state and region and I want to acknowledge the tremendous losses that have been suffered by our fellow citizens. Up and down the West Coast, the destruction from these fires is heartbreaking.
As the Chair of the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission, I want to share the commission’s compassion as we mourn with those who have lost family and friends in the fires. This is devastating and our thoughts go out to them. We are thankful that more lives were not lost, and so grateful to the heroic efforts of those fighting on the frontlines of the blazes.
We remember those who have lost homes, special places, and prized family treasures. These losses are traumatic and some can never be replaced. We also recognize that millions of people have struggled with dangerous breathing conditions for weeks. This is difficult and sickening in the short term and damaging to our health in the long term.
We know that many factors came together to create the dangerous conditions that Oregon has been facing. And scientists have warned for years that climate change was creating hotter dryer conditions that would make events like the ones Oregon has been experiencing more common if we continue on our current path.
Working with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, we are intimately aware of the benefits of using science to protect and restore air quality. DEQ’s air monitors and Air Quality Index are among the most valuable tools to determine when an air advisory is needed for portions of the state.
With the unforgiving wildfires and overwhelming smoke, even these tools were pushed to the limit. The circumstances were far beyond anyone’s control, but there are still steps we can take to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
So, today let’s remember all those who have suffered losses, and again pay tribute to the firefighters who are working so hard out there. And let’s work together to improve the conditions that have such dangerous potential.
Oregon is experiencing record poor air quality from wildfire smoke across the state, according to analysis by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA).
DEQ and LRAPA compared recent and historical Air Quality Index information for Portland, Eugene, Bend, Medford and Klamath Falls. The AQI ranks air quality on a progressive five-step scale: good, moderate, unhealthy, very unhealthy or hazardous.
Preliminary analysis shows:
Record highs: All five cities exceeded previous daily records for poor air quality during wildfire season. Southern Oregon has previously seen extended periods of unhealthy and very unhealthy air quality, but Medford and Klamath Falls have also set records this year. All previous records were set in September 2017.
Hazardous days: Other than Medford, no city has previously experienced a hazardous air quality day since DEQ began monitoring. Medford had one day of hazardous air quality in both 2017 and 1987. Last week, Eugene had five hazardous days, Bend and Medford had three, Portland had two, and Klamath Falls had one.
Very unhealthy days: While Eugene, Bend, Medford and Klamath Falls have experienced very unhealthy days in previous years, Portland has never had a very unhealthy day. Last week, Portland had two very unhealthy days.
Previous and new daily AQI records (through Sunday, Sept. 13)
Portland’s previous record AQI was 157 (unhealthy) in 2017. Portland’s new record is 477 (hazardous) set on Sunday, Sept. 13.
Eugene’s previous record AQI was 291 (very unhealthy) in 2017. Eugene’s new record is 457 (hazardous) set on Sunday, Sept. 13.
Bend’s previous record AQI was 231 (very unhealthy) in 2017. Bend’s new record is over 500 (beyond the AQI scale ) set on Saturday, Sept. 12.
Medford’s previous record AQI was 319 (hazardous). Medford’s new record is 325 (hazardous) set on Saturday, Sept. 12.
Klamath Fall’s previous record AQI was 254 (very unhealthy). Klamath Fall’s new record is 331 (hazardous) set on Saturday, Sept. 12.
Regular record-keeping of air quality levels began in Portland, Eugene and Medford in 1985, Bend in 1989, and Klamath Falls in 1999.
Previous record daily AQI and daily AQI levels for Monday, Sept. 7 – Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. All previous daily AQI records were set in 2017.
DEQ’s color-coded Air Quality Index provides current air quality conditions and ranks air quality on a scale of 0-500. Green (0-50) is good. Yellow (51-100) is moderate. Orange (101 to 150) is unhealthy for sensitive groups such as children, seniors, pregnant women and those with respiratory conditions. Red (151 to 200) is unhealthy for everyone. Purple (201 to 300) is very unhealthy for everyone. Maroon (301 to 500) is hazardous for everyone. Over 500 is off the AQI scale. People should follow recommendations for hazardous conditions.
Travis Knudsen, Lane Regional Air Protection Agency, 303-523-2661, firstname.lastname@example.org
Note about data: Data for 2020 is preliminary and has not yet been validated according to DEQ’s quality assurance procedures. Historical data focuses on wildfire smoke, and excludes data from wintertime air quality levels, field burning days, and the Fourth of July (because of fireworks).
When wildfires blew up along the Santiam and McKenzie river canyons, Peter Brewer was up at dawn, studying satellite imagery that showed a thick wall of smoke across much of western and southern Oregon. Brewer, a wildfire smoke response coordinator, knew bad news when he saw it.
“You know what’s coming,” says Brewer, who works in the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Bend office. “You know we’re going to get hit in a big way.”
Oregon has officially entered fire season, and it already is going down as one of the worst and most tragic on record. At last count, 50 fires, more than 500 square miles burned, sending huge plumes of smoke wherever the wind blows. This week, Eugene and Salem caught the brunt of it, with mid-day skies darkened and emitting an eerie red glow.
What makes for dramatic news photography, however, is bad for public health. DEQ’s system of air monitors showed some of the worst air since the agency began measuring, hovering in the purple “hazardous” category in at least nine communities. It is rare for air quality to dip down into the red “unhealthy” level. Smoke produces fine particulates that pose a health risk when breathed into the lungs.
DEQ’s role when wildfires burn is to let the public know about the quality of the air and what steps to take if it starts to head into the unhealthy range. The agency depends on its ever-growing network of air monitors along with a host of other government, tribal and health organizations to accurately predict where the smoke is going to be and how it affects air quality.
Before the devastating 2012 Pole Creek Fire near Sisters, there was little coordination among state agencies when a fire broke out. The dense smoke from that fire led to calls for more coordination, which led to a multi-agency effort to track smoke and provide advisories.
Since then, the effort has grown to include the Oregon Department of Forestry, the National Weather Service, the Oregon Health Authority, local county health offices, tribes and more. During the most recent collaborative call, more than 90 people were on the line.
During the call, which is led by DEQ, forestry officials described the fires and fire patterns, weather forecasters showed wind directions and strength and the determination was made to declare an air quality advisory for all regions of Oregon and Southwest Washington due to fires in Oregon, Washington and California. “And it’s going to be put to use as never before,” he says. “This is going to be historically one of the worst fire seasons Oregon has had.”
People most at risk from particle pollution exposure, such as wildfire smoke, include those with heart or lung diseases. Older adults and children, as well as pregnant women, may also be more susceptible to smoke exposure.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is proud to announce that Rachel Sakata, DEQ senior air quality planner, will be leading a roundtable discussion on Oregon’s involvement with Medium- and Heavy Duty Zero Emission Vehicles MOU at the Oregon Energy Future Conference presented by the Northwest Environmental Business Council.
Serving more than 860,000 people each year prior to COVID-19, Oregon Food Bank’s network of 1,400 pantries and meal sites are driven by donations of fresh produce, protein, dairy and other pantry staples. In preparing this food for distribution, volunteers devote thousands of hours to sorting and packaging bulk donations from across the Northwest.
My name is Chris Schmokel, and I am an environmental chemistry major at Oregon State University and also an Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholar Fellow. My fellowship placement is with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and this summer I’m working on two projects: starting a pilot program to test for copper concentrations in Oregon waters, and creating a short video to share all the good work being done by the Oregon Sea Grant’s Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience internship program.
(Reposted with permission from Washington Department of Ecology)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released their plan to reduce temperatures in the Columbia and Snake rivers. The plan, called a “Total Maximum Daily Load” or TMDL, is like a diet for temperature: it sets reduction targets for each source of temperature pollution — such as dams, businesses, and even climate change. If each of these sources meet its goal, temperatures in the rivers will remain at levels healthy for endangered salmon.
Franziska Landes, Northwest Region Cleanup staff, received the 2019 Science for Solutions Award from the American Geophysical Union “for significant contributions in the application and use of the Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.”
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality awarded approximately $125,000 total to 13 businesses and non-profits in Oregon’s repair and reuse industry on Friday, July 17. DEQ’s 2020 Workforce Development Repair and Reuse grants provide up to $10,000 to each awardee to support projects that help protect Oregon’s environment, public health and economy.
This week, DEQ began overseeing the cleanup of the last legacy contamination site in Portland’s downtown reach. From the mid-1800s to early 1900s, Portland Gas Manufacturing created the compressed gas that lit the street lamps. Today, the site is occupied by Naito Parkway and Tom McCall Waterfront Park between the Burnside and Steel Bridges.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has released the 2019 Oregon Water Quality Index. The index, or OWQI, details water quality assessments at 160 ambient monitoring stations across the state.
Oregon and 14 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, are committed to working together to advance the market for electric trucks, buses and vans.
“Oregonians have been leading the way in adopting electric cars to lower emissions,” said Gov. Kate Brown. “Electrifying trucks, buses and delivery vehicles is the next logical step in cutting emissions, improving air quality and fighting climate change.”
“It started innocently enough with pressure washing the deck. This seemingly benign activity showed that the deck needed a lot of repair.”
My husband and I have been working on a deck rebuild at our house in the evenings and weekends since April (note that we are reluctant but willing Do-It-Yourselfers). We usually get out of town for at least day trips on the weekends, but due to the pandemic, we’ve stayed close to home since March.
All DEQ’s vehicle inspection stations have reopened for testing, and the response has been record-breaking. Nearly 4,000 cars a day went through stations in Jackson, Clackamas, Washington and Columbia counties during the first two weeks. That number rose even higher this week with the reopening of Multnomah County stations in Gresham and Northeast Portland.
“From Manzanita to Enterprise, and from Burns over to Brookings, the consistent service provided to residents and business during these uncertain times has helped to support the health and well-being of communities across the state.”
“We’re receiving about double our normal supplies these days – we saw about two million pounds of food donations come through last week,” says Steven Castro, who receives and logs donations at the Oregon Food Bank. “But these supplies go right out the door just as soon as they come in.”
As of Monday, June 22, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has put a new federal rule into effect regarding Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, that curb the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s ability to protect clean water for people in Oregon. DEQ described its opposition to the proposed rollback back in an October article.
Great news! The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is reopening many of its vehicle inspection stations this week. Today, the Medford-Ashland station will begin offering inspection services; while the Clackamas, Sherwood and Hillsboro/Sunset stations will reopen tomorrow, June 16; and the Scappoose station will reopen on Friday, June 19. The agency asks the public for patience as the staff works within new COVID-19-related procedures and through a backlog of vehicles. DEQ will continue to offer several other options for obtaining an inspection compliance certificate for those who do not want to wait in line.
I served 40 days as part of the state’s response to COVID-19. Thirty-one of those days were as Deputy Media Public Information Officer in the Joint Information Center in Salem. My job was to lead a team of staff to respond to the 20 to 40 emails and calls we’d receive from the media every day. During this time, I learned innumerable things about communication, patience, dedication, compassion, service and friendship. But, for the sake of this blog, I’d like to share three.
“We feel lucky to have business so that we can employ some people and provide food to the community.”
– Michael Marzano, who co-owns Hot Mama’s Wings in Eugene with his wife Angie.
Like so many restaurants across the state, Hot Mama’s has shifted its entire business to offer only take-out meals. Michael and Angie say they feel fortunate that they’ve been able to continuously adapt and pivot. “It’s tough, a continuing work in progress, but we’re figuring it out,” Angie adds. They cut the menu in half based on what they could do with proper social distancing in the kitchen and what would work best for takeout. They initially struggled to get enough to-go containers and all-natural chicken wings. As they worked through to find solutions, “it was nice to find out the new menu matched well to what customers really wanted,” Michael reflects. He has also been delightfully surprised to find that Hot Mama’s new menu is generating virtually no food waste.
“The great thing to see has been the teamwork. Everyone is supporting each other to find new ways to make this challenging situation work for our customers, our staff, and the community.”
– Rianna Koppel, Sustainability Coordinator at Ashland Food Co-op
As it continues to serve the needs of its members during the COVID-19 crisis, the Co-op has taken many steps to safeguard employees and customers. “It’s completely changed the way we work.” The Co-op has added masks and hand sanitizer, one-way aisles, floor stickers for social distancing at checkout, plexiglass shields at checkout, and senior shopping hours in the morning.