During a Feb. 16 hearing in Portland before Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission, tribal voices stressed the need to better protect Oregon’s citizens with the approval of proposed water quality standards for toxic pollutants that would be based on new human health criteria, including the highest fish consumption rate in the United States.
Representatives of agriculture interests, municipalities from across the state and wastewater treatment entities echoed that desire, but said the proposed standards that would impose huge costs and few real benefits.
At the core of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s proposal is a plan to shift the state’s current standard of 6.5 grams a day (less than one eight-ounce fish meal per month or the daily consumption of about the amount of fish that would fit on a cracker) to a new fish consumption rate of 175 grams per day (about 23 eight-ounce fish meals a month).
The DEQ is expected to recommend the rulemaking revisions to the EQC for its consideration in mid-June before the rules are sent on to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its approval or disapproval.
A higher fish consumption rate would result in tougher restrictions on the amount of toxic pollution allowed to be discharged into Oregon waterways.
The new rules, which would particularly impact point-source dischargers like industry and municipal waste water facilities, are designed to better protect the health of people who eat more fish from Oregon streams and rivers.
The proposed rules would put limits on 114 toxics, including mercury, arsenic and certain pesticides. Studies have documented that certain populations, including Native Americans, eat more fish than the general population in the United States, and that toxics found in fish from Oregon waterways cause cancer, and effect immune, reproductive and nervous systems.
The new rulemaking also proposes a number of compliance options, including variances, for point-source dischargers.
The state agency says that the current criteria are based on a fish consumption rate that does not provide adequate protection for the amount of fish and shellfish consumed by Oregonians. DEQ also proposes to adopt new and revised water quality standards rules addressing the implementation of water quality standards through various water quality control programs, including National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits and nonpoint source pollution programs.
The objective is to adopt water quality standards for Oregon that will protect people from adverse health effects as a result of consuming fish and water from Oregon streams and lakes, and to allow DEQ and other agencies to implement the water quality standards in a manner that is cost effective and achieves meaningful environmental results, according to the agency.
Last week’s hearing in Portland drew a crowd of about 75 people with testimony split on the proposal. Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Chairman of the Board of Trustees Elwood Patawa told the commission that the prevailing fish consumption rate does not represent the fish consumption habits of Northwest tribes, other ethnic groups or those of other Oregonians who choose to eat more fish.
“As stewards of the state’s waters, we need to increase the health of the water, and provide fish that are safe for Oregonians to eat,” Patawa said. “The CTUIR asks you to adopt the proposed rules. They will better protect our people and many others who eat a lot of fish, like we do.”
Patawa said that failure to approve the water quality standards and accompanying implementation tools would leave the state’s fate in EPA’s hands. The federal agency in June 2010 “disapproved” human health toxics criteria proposed by the state in 2004 that would have boosted the consumption to 17.5 grams per day and has said it would conduct a federal rulemaking process if Oregon failed to act.
“By implementing the proposed rules, Oregon would take responsibility for the health and quality of life of its citizens,” Patawa said.
Curtis W. Martin of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association said his industry is committed to maintaining and/or improving water quality but says the DEQ proposal “goes far beyond what is reasonable” and would threaten the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers by imposing additional costs to reduce toxic emissions.
The new regulations would pose “economic hardships to ranches” while not guaranteeing any environmental benefits, he said.
Wastewater treatment representatives, such as Ron Bittler of the Metropolitan (Eugene-Springfield) Wastewater Commission, said that they are, and have been, undertaking expensive efforts to improve the quality of emissions and that the proposal would likely require further measures that may be unachievable, both economically and technologically.
“There are no reasonable, effective methods to achieve the proposal,” Bittler said.
Peggy Browne, who with her husband farms 500 acres in southern Union County in far eastern Oregon, said that the DEQ is “suggesting more, very costly regulation. We’re asking you to please not put agriculture out of business.”
She said that the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s process for implementing water management plans for reducing emissions of toxic pollutants continues to produce water quality improvements, such as restoration of riparian areas.
“It’s delicate, but it’s working,” said Browne, who advised the DEQ against invading the ODA’s territory with the proposed rules.
Those efforts include installing more efficient irrigation systems to boost water quantity and riparian fencing to protect streambanks, said Klamath River basin farmer Tracey Liskey.
“Agriculture is doing its part to reduce pollution,” Liskey said.
Aja DeCoteau, a member of the Yakama Nation and Watershed Department manager for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said that the adoption of the fish consumption rate of 175 grams per days “is a critical first step in improving water quality in the basin, as well as protecting the health of our fish and tribal members who eat the fish.”
“We recognize the difficulties that meeting some of the new standards will create, and we are willing to support interim measures and to seek cost-effective long-term solutions to eliminate toxic chemicals from the Oregon waters that we all share,” DeCoteau said.
Brett VandenHeuvel, Columbia Riverkeeper executive director, said his conservation organization supports DEQ’s proposal.
“I eat Columbia River fish on a regular basis, as do tens of thousands of Oregonians. Reducing toxics is not just imperative for tribal members, it is imperative for the health of Oregonians,” VndenHeuvel said. “We are at a crossroads. Either we seriously reduce toxic pollution like mercury, arsenic, and PCBs, or we accept the fact that people are getting cancer from fish in our rivers.”
In June 2010, EPA disapproved those 2004 standards because, as agreed upon in 2006, they were not protective enough of Oregonians based on the amount of fish they are known to consume.
EPA’s disapproval caused the majority of the 2004 water quality criteria to no longer be effective, leaving in place the previous criteria of 6.5 grams per day that was adopted in the late 1980s.
The new proposed rules will serve as the basis for permit limits and other regulatory decisions. It also would address EPA’s disapproval of DEQ’s 2004 criteria and obviate the need for EPA to promulgate federal rules for Oregon.
In addition to the proposed criteria revisions, DEQ is proposing a number of compliance options. For point-source dischargers, those include intake credits, background pollutant allowance, and other variances. Additionally, the new rules would include revisions to the Water Quality Standards and Total Maximum Daily Load regulations for non-point sources.
As an example, the proposed intake credits would allow facilities to account for pollutants already present in the intake water. Facilities would not be allowed to increase mass or concentration of the pollutant at the point of discharge.
Variances would establish and apply alternative water quality standards for a specific pollutant to a NPDE-permitted facility for a specified duration, or when a facility demonstrates it cannot meet water quality standards for one or more reasons, including natural conditions, human caused pollution, and/or when treatment technology is infeasible.
Variances could also be allowed with a pollution reduction plan, which would provide a mechanism for achieving water quality standards when underlying water quality standards cannot be met in the short term.
More information about the proposed rulemaking can be found at:
All comments on the must be received by DEQ by 5p.m. Monday, March 21. Comments on the proposed rulemaking may be submitted by:
-- E-mail: ToxicsRuleMaking@deq.state.or.us;
-- Fax: 503-229-6037.
-- Mail: Andrea Matzke, Oregon DEQ Water Qualitiy Division, 811 SW Sixth Ave., Portland, OR 97204.
A ninth and final hearing on the proposal will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, March 7 at the Labor and Industries Building, 350 Winter St. NE, Room 260, Salem, OR 97309.