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AUDIO FILE: Oregon DEQ Proposes To Relax Water Quality Standards

A group of Oregon's conservation leaders held a Press Conference in front of the Department of Environmental Quality building in late October to protest proposed changes to water quality regulations. These proposed changes were funded by a grant from Northwest Pulp and Paper Association, who will profit by these regulations being relaxed.
This photograph demonstrates levels of turbidity allowable under new guidelines
This photograph demonstrates levels of turbidity allowable under new guidelines
Speakers at this Conference, in order of their appearance, were:
Mark Riskedahl, Executive Director of Northwest Environmental Defense Center
Rhett Lawrence, Conservation Advocate with Oregon State Public Interest Research Group
Erica Maharg of Oregon Sierra Club and
Brent Foster of Columbia Riverkeeper

Mark introduced the subject matter and why the Conference was being held in front of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality building. "Water is an incredibly valuable resource in this state, something that we all hold very dear. And the agency charged with protecting the quality of that water is this agency right here, the Oregon DEQ, the Department of Environmental Quality. In 2002, the NW Pulp and Paper Association entered into a contract with this agency, Oregon DEQ. The contract was expressly earmarked to send $120,000 to this agency for the purpose of funding a specific position dedicated to revising and weakening Oregon's water clarity standards, the turbidity standard."
He then showed a large photograph of a specific discharge from the Waste Management Oregon site, draining a portion of their property here in Northeast Portland. "Whenever it would rain on this property, the rain would co-mingle with the pollutants on the industrial property and carry those pollutants directly to this outfall, unfiltered and untreated into the Columbia Slough......this effluent at times was 10,000 per cent above the background of the receiving water body. Oregon's current criteria requires that this effluent not be more than 10% above the background of the receiving water body." Upon noticing this discharge, and subsequently getting no action from reporting it to the authorities, NEDC, and other volunteers, using the existing turbidity standard, initiated a Clean Water Act citizen suit, forcing the company to clean the site up.
"This would not have been able to occur under Oregon's new turbidity criteria; we would not have been able to clean up this site, and the effluent would have continued to flow as it is now." After a few more remarks, Mark then introduced the next speaker, Bret Lawrence, Conservation Advocate with OSPIRG.
Bret talked briefly about the reservations his organization had in 12002 when the NW Pulp and Paper Association signed this contract with Oregon DEQ, "expressly to weaken the standards. We received assurances from DEQ at the time that that was not the case, that in fact they were just updating the standards, that they would not be weakened. Lo and behold, here we are three years later the standards have been dramatically weakened." OSPIRG has concerns about that, and urges DEQ not to weaken those standards and uphold the standards as they exist....."
Next, Erica Maharg, a Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club of Oregon, who is out every day talking with Oregonians about clean water issues. "When these people hear that DEQ is proposing to weaken water clarity standards, they feel betrayed. They understand that we need clear, clean and safe rivers flowing through our cities, and not murky and dirty ones. They also understand that DEQ is supposed to protect the environment and the citizens of Oregon, not the pockets of polluting industry."
Erica mentions that this revised water standard is now open for public comment. "Oregonians must tell DEQ loud and clear we refuse to sell out our clean water." This link will take you to a DEQ page giving the information necessary to properly comment by mail, fax or e-mail, as well as the dates throughout Oregon where one may provide their testimony in person. These hearings are to be held in Portland, Eugene, North Bend and Bend Oregon. The Portland date is November 29, 2005, at 811 SW 6th, Room 3A, beginning at 6:00 pm.
public comment.
Brent Foster was the final speaker, who also fielded questions from what media was present. He gets right to the point showing a bottle of brown water that would be illegal to dump today under the existing turbidity standards. "If this rule passes, this will automatically be legal. There will be no need to get a mixing zone.........because what this standard...says, from the point you discharge, we're not even going to determine whether you're in compliance for up to 300 feet downstream. You can do whatever you want within that 300 feet. And only at the outside of that will we see if you meet the standard."
According to Brent, this standard has been weakened, in some cases by 500% or more. "But when you add in the fact that there's now up to 300 feet mixing zone where you can violate the legal standard, where you can create water that's this dirty, water that's dirty to look at, water that will decrease fish productivity, and water that's totally at odds with the whole goal of restoring rivers like the Columbia and the Willamette, then you understand what's wrong with this rule."
After the Q & A, labels that people had previously signed were attached to bottles of dirty water and delivered to the DEQ offices.

This is approximately a 13 minute audio file.

Following the Press Conference, A spokesperson for the Northwest Pulp and Paper Association indicated she would like an opportunity to speak to the other side of this issue. This is about a 3 minute interview.

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