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Toxic talk on tap for the Willamette

'Toxic Mixing Zones' on the Willamette River are coming up again in the legislative process. A hearing in Newberg on Monday, Aug. 14, will offer an opportunity for people to raise their voices for a clean Willamette River.

Our state Senate Natural Resources Committee will listen to invited comments from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. or so, and to general public comments from 6:30 or 6:45 to 8 p.m. The Newberg hearing will take place in the Chehalem Senior Center at 201 Foothills Drive.

The invited comments portion includes environmentalists, industries and the Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ may perhaps present its proposal for funding to assess and monitor toxics in Oregon's waterways, beginning with the Willamette. The DEQ's proposal will go to the governor for inclusion, hopefully, in his budget to be submitted to the Legislature.

Two of us from Citizens for Safe Water will offer 'invited' comments. We will bring up various concerns affecting toxics in the Willamette.

One is the question of feminization of fish. Right now, in Colorado, scientists are trying to determine the impact of hormones - both natural and pharmaceutical - from sewage treatment plant effluent on fish. The male fish population is down to 20 percent in one river, and down to 10 percent in another river. In our Columbia River and other waterways, other pollutants are reducing male characteristics in otters and sturgeon. Are fish in the Willamette also becoming feminized by our cities' sewage treatment plant effluents and other pollutants such as pesticides and industrial cleaning solvents?

Somewhat related is the question of fish deformities. Why are fish in the Willamette's Newberg Pool so extremely vulnerable to parasites compared to fish upriver? Are pollutants from the double mixing zones in the Newberg Pool affecting their immune systems?

Another concern is the question of drought cycle and global warming impact on the Willamette River. Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' dams augments the natural flow of the Willamette substantially in dry seasons. The natural low flow at Salem was 2,500 cubic feet per second in the 1950s. Now the augmented low flow at Salem is about 6,500 cfs. Will drought cycles impact the spring rains filling the Corps' dams? Will global warming reduce the melting snowpack that refills the Corps' dams during the late summer?

The Corps of Engineers commented in 1950 that dilution is the solution to pollution. And even now the quantity of pollutants and the amount of flow in the river are intertwined. Is this policy still acceptable?

Some other concerns: The DEQ determined in 2000 that eating more than one serving of resident fish between Oregon City and Salem would raise our risk of cancer proportionately. Industries on the Willamette self-report discharging millions of pounds of toxics (metals and chemicals) into the river. Lampreys - a significant part of Native American diets - are vanishing from the Willamette.

(To hear DEQ officials talking about 'Toxics in Oregon's Waterways,' try watching August reruns of a cable TV show, the 'Water Spot.' The next showing should be at noon Sunday, Aug.13 on cable 23. It is especially a pleasure to see what can be done on a small scale to reduce pesticide pollution in various creeks.)

Maybe we'll see each other in Newberg on the 14th.

Kathy Newcomb, Tualatin, is research analyst for Citizens for Safe Water.