U.S. Water News Online
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Oregon Department of Environmental
Quality is moving to ease restrictions on waste water discharged into
rivers from paper mills, factories, construction and other sources,
saying industry has a hard time meeting the current standards, which
are only enforced part of the time.
The change marks the first time the agency has tried to alter
clean water standards dating to the 1970s under a provision approved
by the Legislature in 1997 that allows industries to pay for work
that the state cannot pay for on its own.
The rules only apply to turbidity, a measure of suspended solids
in the water. Turbidity affects the costs born by cities filtering
drinking water, whether fish and other predators can see to feed, and
whether sunlight can reach underwater plant life.
The Northwest Pulp and Paper Association, which represents paper
mills, paid $102,705 of the roughly $260,000 spent by DEQ to develop
the revisions, according to documents and interviews.
Bob Baumgartner of DEQ's water quality division said the money did
not earn the association any undue influence, and the state is
imposing tighter limits than the industry wanted.
DEQ Director Stephanie Hallock said the revisions are fair and
sound, and outside money is a critical tool for the agency.
"I look at it as an attempt to make a workable standard," that is
scientifically sound and can be applied more consistently, she said.
The proposed changes are open for public comment and must be
approved by the state Environmental Quality Commission and the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
Under the new rules, discharges would be allowed to increase the
turbidity of the average Oregon river by 30 percent at times. Smaller
streams could become twice as murky.
The department said Oregon rivers are so clear to begin with and
the changes are so small that the impact on rivers would be hardly
noticeable and would not harm salmon, which depend on clean water, or
the safety of drinking water.
Environmental groups said the agency, struggling under inadequate
funding, is bowing to the very industry it is supposed to regulate.
"Their argument is, `We don't enforce the standard, so we're going
to make one that's weak so it's easier to enforce," said Brent Foster
of Columbia Riverkeeper. "It just shows the complete lack of backbone
The Northwest Environmental Defense Center forced the cleanup of
brown industrial wastewater flowing into the Columbia Slough under
the current rules, but that would be impossible under the proposed
changes, said executive director Mark Riskedahl.
"They keep taking the tools away," he said. "There is no evidence
they would enforce even a weaker standard."
Mark Morford, a Portland attorney who represents paper mills, said
the current rules are out of date and lack specifics, leaving mills
to face unpredictable costs. The changes would make rules more
precise and consistent.
Tom Rosetta of DEQ said the new rules could be applied to some
construction that is now exempted from the current rules because they
are so hard to meet, leaving some rivers cleaner.
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