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Conservationists say new pollution limits not enough

State environmental regulators are proposing a change to acceptable pollution limits for the Tualatin River and several local conservation groups are weighing in saying they may not go far enough to protect local waterways.

The Department of Environmental Quality recently released proposed changes to the river basin's Total Maximum Daily Load levels, which restrict the amount of pollutants that can be released into the river and its tributaries.

In a letter to the DEQ this week, a group of conservation organizations, including Tualatin Riverkeepers and PCC Sylvania's habitat restoration team, wrote that additional changes were needed in order to keep from further damaging urban streams that feed the county's only river.

'We feel the new (proposed revisions) ignores the urban streams,' said Brian Wegener, watershed watch coordinator with Tualatin Riverkeepers.

Known as the TMDL, the revised changes would, in part, allow the county's sewer authority, Clean Water Services, to release phosphorus into the river from some of its facilities during the summertime without increasing the total amount the organization can release.

The TMDL also looks at water temperature, bacteria and the amount of ammonia released into the river.

'If a stream is not meeting a standard for a particular pollutant, we need to figure out plans and goals and pollution control targets to get the water quality up to meet that standard,' said Steve Mrazik, Water quality manager for DEQ. 'Industrial and municipal runoff are all sources of potential nutrients to river system. Things like urban landscapes and lawns and agricultural lands all have runoff and they all feed into the river and contribute to pollutants.'

In the 1950s and 60s, public health authorities posted signs to ward off swimmers because there was so much bacteria in the water. By 1969 a moratorium was put on suburban Washington County. No new sewer hookups would be allowed until plans were made to fix the sewage mess.

That eventually led to the creation of Clean Water Services, and one of the first TMDLs in the country.

The TMDL has been in place since 1988 and was last revised in 2001.

In the letter sent to DEQ, the group of conservation organizations didn't dispute much of DEQ's recommendations, but said that more changes were needed.

In the past, Wegener said, trout used to live in many urban streams, such as Fanno Creek and Ash Creek.

'These streams are not so good for that anymore. It's not what it used to be,' Wegener said. 'You used to catch trout out of Fanno Creek regularly, and we want to see fish come back to our neighborhood streams.'

Wegener said the water temperature is stopping trout and other local fish from returning to the streams.

'The new TMDL focuses on rural streams and wastewater treatment plants that are discharging warm water into the river,' Wegener said. 'And Clean Water Services and the cities of Tigard and Tualatin have done a lot to plant trees along the streams to cool the waters down, but a very significant source of the temperature are small dams on tributary streams.'

Dams, Wegener said, aren't protected by shade from trees and work as large heat collectors before the water is released.

'A very significant source are these ponds that spill this really hot water over the dam,' Wegener said, making it unsuitable for trout.

In addition, the letter said, the new revisions don't go far enough to address pollutants from urban runoff from streets, sidewalks and rooftops, and asks for additional treatment options.

'That doesn't mean tearing down buildings and roads to plant trees,' Wegener said, 'but using low impact development techniques like the swales that Tigard installed on Burnham Street or things like porous pavement and Tigard's new tree code revisions. They are all things that make the landscape act like more a natural landscape and protect the streams.'

Wegener said that Tualatin Riverkeepers is working on an in-depth report of the DEQ's proposed changes to the TMDL, which he expects to release before DEQ's public comment period ends.

DEQ is currently asking for the public's opinion on the proposed changes. The comment period will end at 5 p.m., Dec. 14,

Send comments to Avis Newell, DEQ Northwest Region, 2020 S.W. 4th Ave., Suite 400, Portland, OR 97201, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.