DEQ Laboratory releases Willamette River Basin Water Toxics Summary

Oregon Willamette Basin

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
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Clockwise above from upper left: DEQ’s Kara Goodwin collecting a sediment sample, crayfish collected in the Willamette River, DEQ’s Dan Brown collecting crayfish, sampling bottles and gear for a water collection.

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.

Sub-basin Findings

Click here to see full infographic on findings.

Key findings in the sub-basins include:

Lower

  • 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.

Mid

  • 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.

Upper

  • 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.

Additionally, the results from the summary will be used to inform several existing DEQ efforts, including the DEQ Integrated Toxics Reduction Strategy, the Integrated 303 (b) and (d) Reports for the federal Clean Water Act, and Total Maximum Daily Load, National Pollution Discharge Elimination System and stormwater permitting and regulatory programs. This will ensure that the waters of the Willamette River Basin continue to meet water quality standards and are safe places for people to recreate.

Click here see the monitoring summary infographic

— Dan Brown, water quality assessment specialist

Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force to hold Annual Meeting virtually on Nov. 18

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 Task Force Executive Members include:

For more information visit: http://oilspilltaskforce.org/task-force-events/annual-meeting/

Wildfire cleanup begins in Jackson County

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.

Learn more at https://wildfire.oregon.gov/cleanup

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.

Check hazardous waste cleanup progress at https://r10data.response.epa.gov/ORfi…

Video courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Oct. 24, 2020

Amid destruction, hope for recovery and rebuilding

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.

Members of Oregon’s Debris Management Task survey wildfire damage in Jackson County.

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.

Wildfire destruction in Jackson County, Oregon, Fall 2020

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.

Find more information about this effort at wildfire.oregon.gov/cleanup

—Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist

From former grocery store to the Garden of Surging Waves, a Brownfields success story

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

Left: Photo courtesy of Clatsop County Historical Society. Right: Heritage Square, 2014, DEQ

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.

Other projects

Completed in 2014, a former landfill turned into a sports complex in the City of Astoria, creating revenue for the school district and freeing up land for expansion of Columbia Memorial Hospital.
Cully Park in Northeast Portland used to an abandoned landfill. In 2018, it became a 25-acre urban park with a playground, trails, Native Gathering Gardens thanks to Living CullyPortland Parks & Recreation, with support and Brownfields funding from EPA and DEQ.

–Jennifer K. Flynt, public affairs specialist

Breakthroughs in detecting Harmful Algal Blooms using satellite imagery

Photo of Odell Lake, Oregon in 2020 by Sam Doak at Sunset Cove

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.

EPA Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAn) images of alage bloom monitored over time at Odell Lake, Oregon in 2020

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.

Salem, Oregon, May 2018

“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.

Map by Dan Brown, DEQ, April 2019

DEQ supports electric transportation awareness, features mobile app game

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.

The app was developed with funds generated from the sale of Oregon Clean Fuels Program credits.

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.

app overview

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.

Learn more at http://oregoinelectric.com and by following #OregoinElectric on social media.

Columbia River Basin pollution reduction projects receive $2 million EPA grant

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. 

The Columbia River Basin Restoration Funding Assistanc… is the grant source. The program was established in 2016 through an amendment to the Clean Water Act, sponsored by U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley.

“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.

–Jennifer K. Flynt, public affairs specialist