January 28, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - DEQ proposes stringent water rules

Feb 09, 2011

January 28, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - DEQ proposes stringent water rules

DEQ proposes stringent water rules

Increase in fish consumption rate will greatly affect state-imposed standards

By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
Published: January 28. 2011 4:00AM PST

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is proposing more strict rules about the amount of more than 100 toxic chemicals that can be released into waters of the state, which could impact a handful of cities like Prineville as well as agricultural or forestry operations in the future.

The changes are based on increased estimates or how much fish Oregonians eat, said Andrea Matzke, water quality standards specialist with DEQ. Because toxins in the waterways can build up in fish and shellfish, fish consumption is a key factor in how the state calculates how much of those toxins is acceptable.

“The more you start eating fish, you could be eating more toxics,” Matzke said. “So when you increase the fish consumption rate, the criteria becomes more stringent.”

And the state is proposing to increase the fish consumption rate from 17.5 grams a day to 175 grams, or 6.2 ounces, a day.

That’s about the equivalent of 23 8-ounce fish meals a month, Matzke said. The fish consumption rate was based on studies — mostly of tribal members — and stakeholder meetings, she said, and is designed to protect the health of everyone in the state, including those who eat the most fish. And it would result in the strictest water quality standards of any state, nationwide.

“These criteria are going to be very stringent,” she said.

DEQ will hold a meeting on the proposed changes Tuesday in Bend.

The proposed standards would mainly apply to companies or municipalities with a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. DEQ has only issued a handful of those permits in the Deschutes Basin, including to the city of Prineville and Black Butte Ranch.

Prineville will just have to make sure they follow the state’s regulations if they change, said Jerry Brummer, Prineville public works superintendent.

“Any time they (set) restrictions or limits, then we as a city or county, we have to figure out how to make sure we’re going to get that implemented and how we’re going to achieve that,” Brummer said, noting that could be through different types of filtration, retention ponds or other options.

But Prineville is already planning to install a wetland to treat effluent, he said, which would significantly reduce pollutants in the wastewater as well as lower the temperature before it reaches the Crooked River.

“That would be a huge help to meet the requirements,” Brummer said.

Representatives from Black Butte Ranch involved in treating wastewater could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. But the new standards probably would not have much of an impact on Black Butte Ranch, said Spencer Bohaboy, a policy development specialist with DEQ, since it is considered a minor facility.

Storm water discharge permits would not be affected by the new rules, Matzke said, since human health criteria — the standards that factor in fish consumption — don’t apply to storm water discharge directly.

But down the road, farms and non-federal forestlands could be impacted, she said. Part of the proposal would involve clarifying that the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Oregon Department of Agriculture have to meet DEQ’s water quality rules when they come up with best management practices. Those practices could deal with things like keeping cows out of streams and reducing the amount of sediment that ends up in waterways, she said.

“They need to be meeting water quality standards,” Matzke said.

Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 541-617-7811 or kramsayer@bendbulletin.com.

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