In her own words: Reflections on being a woman in leadership

Those early positive and supportive interactions with women managers gave me confidence and validation.

Jennifer Wigal, DEQ Water Quality Deputy Director

I’ve pursued paths that, while they weren’t unheard of for women, women were definitely in the minority. I pursued my undergraduate degree in civil engineering at a time when women made up about 10% of the students in my degree program. That was the highest percentage among all the engineering fields of study at the time.

Continue reading “In her own words: Reflections on being a woman in leadership”

Old mines pose many dangers: Why DEQ and EPA restricted access to the old Opalite mercury mine

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.

Continue reading “Old mines pose many dangers: Why DEQ and EPA restricted access to the old Opalite mercury mine”

First electric school buses come to Oregon, bringing fresh air to students

Beaverton School District rolls out the first electric school busses in Oregon. [Beaverton School District video]

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.

Continue reading “First electric school buses come to Oregon, bringing fresh air to students”

DEQ expands eligibility for school bus engine grants

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.

Continue reading “DEQ expands eligibility for school bus engine grants”

Oregon DEQ’s Vehicle Inspection Program puts 2020 in rearview mirror

Inspector checking vehicle diagnostics while customer waits at a safe distance in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.

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.

A new report, “Oregon DEQ Vehicle Inspection Program 2020 Update,” summarizes how the program managed the challenges. It provides details on staffing, testing options, improvement initiatives and what to expect next from the team.

Dan Sutherland disinfecting his station between customer visits at the NE Portland vehicle inspection station, June 30, 2020.

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.

–Susan C. Mills, public affairs specialist

Oregon expands DEQ protection of pristine waters in Crater Lake and Waldo Lake

Waldo Lake with Diamond Peak in the background on Sept. 5, 2020. Joe Yuska paddles a kayak across the exceptionally clear waters. [Photo by Debra Sturdevant, Copyright 2020]

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.

Crater Lake from Watchman Observation Station along the caldera rim on Thanksgiving weekend circa 2015. [Photo by Debra Sturdevant, Copyright 2015]

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.

The moon rises over Crater Lake as seen from the caldera rim in 2007. [Photo by Debra Sturdevant, Copyright 2007]

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

Waldo Lake from a campsite on the east shore on Sept. 5, 2020. The crystal clear waters of Waldo Lake are like distilled water. [Photo by Debra Sturdevant, Copyright 2020]

State natural resource agencies report improvements in water quality in parts of Oregon

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.

View the full 2017-19 Biennium Report here.

Learn more: Pesticide Stewardship Partnership Fact Sheet.

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

# # #

Local communities get boost for projects that reduce waste

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.

“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.”

KATY NESBITT, WALLOWA COUNTY DIRECTOR OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

“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:

Loopt Foundation featuring (left to right) CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers and Scott Hamlin, CEO Founder of Loopt Works

• 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 ranch farm homestead in looks cold and bright during winter frost

“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.

See the full list of 2020 funded projects.

— 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.

DEQ’s Jean-Karlo Lemus takes us on brief environmental tour of his homeland in Puerto Rico

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.

DEQ Lab releases groundwater quality report for Oregon’s Walla Walla Basin

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.

Well users can find more information about groundwater contaminants and about maintaining healthy wells and drinking water by visiting the Oregon Health Authority’s Domestic Well Safety Program webpage.

This is the third geographic area DEQ has studied as part of its Statewide Groundwater Quality Monitoring Program, which evaluates the current condition of Oregon’s groundwater.

Read the full Walla Walla Basin 2020 Groundwater Quality report.

– Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist