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The water you drink has more in it than youd like

New study reveals traces of pesticides and herbicides in Clackamas River water

If you care about the water you drink - and let's face it, you should - then the news this week about a not-as-pure-as-hoped-for water supply from the lower Clackamas River and its tributaries is sure to be troubling.

The Clackamas, which serves as the source of 99 percent of the drinking water for Lake Oswego and has long been considered one of the cleaner rivers in Northwest Oregon, has some issues.

However, a U.S. Geological Survey study, released Monday, indicates a variety of pesticides in water samples from the lower Clackamas, along with trace-level detections of pesticides in treated drinking-water samples collected from a drinking-water treatment plant that uses the river as a raw-water source.

While troubling, it's important to note that scientists say the detections in the water were far below existing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's drinking-water standards and other human health benchmarks.

Comforting?

Perhaps. But the reality is that we want our drinking water to be as pristine as possible. No one, and we mean no one, wants to ingest any foreign matter from the water supply. And while benchmarks are valuable tools, we have a hard time feeling comfortable knowing that pesticides and herbicides - essentially poisons - are present at all.

According to the report, 'a total of 63 pesticide compounds were detected in 119 water samples collected during storm and non-storm conditions using low-level detection methods. More pesticides were detected in the tributaries than in the Clackamas River mainstem, and the fewest were detected in treated drinking water. One or more of 15 pesticides were detected in nine of 15 samples of drinking water. Most of the compounds analyzed for, however, were not detected - 98 percent of the 1,790 individual pesticide analyses of finished drinking water were below laboratory method detection levels.'

Again, quoting from the report: 'Pesticides were detected in all eight of the lower-basin tributaries after heavy rainfall, with the largest pesticide contributions coming from Deep and Rock creeks. The herbicides atrazine and simazine were the most common, detected in half of the samples. High-use herbicides such as glyphosate and triclopyr/2,4-D - the active ingredients in RoundUP and Crossbow, respectively-also were frequently detected.'

When we conjure up mental images of things that frighten us, there's little doubt that batches of pesticides and insecticides in any concentration in our water supply have to be near the top of the list. In a way, it's almost like one of those Department of Homeland Security worst-case terrorist scenarios without the terrorists.

We use RoundUp on our dandelions and see the damage done. It can't be good for people, no matter what the concentration. And let us not forget that many of these compounds have made their way into Oswego Lake over the years, creating a potentially toxic brew for swimmers, water skiers and wildlife.

Kim Swan, manager of the Clackamas River Water Providers, noted that 'Although the current levels of pesticides in our drinking water are well below dangerous thresholds, their presence is a warning sign. Studies such as this provide us with the tools to identify where problems are and give us the opportunity to work with other stakeholders in the watershed to prevent pesticides from getting into the river to begin with.'

Well and good, but it sort of seems like closing the barn door after the horses get out. Naïve people that we are, we thought that protection and prevention was already happening for our drinking water.

So where is all of this stuff coming from?

Hard to pinpoint exactly, scientists point out. A significant majority of the pesticides have ties to nursery or agricultural crops. Unfortunately, pesticide-use data currently is reported for the Willamette River basin as a whole and not for individual sub-basins, a situation local water providers would like to change.

We aren't trying to over-react or inflame public opinion about this issue.

But education is a worthy tool and when it comes to something as basic as our water supply, it behooves us to get the word out that it's time - past time - to clean up our collective act. We expect and demand that our water supply be as healthy as possible.

Citizens should not accept anything less.