This article was published on: 09/24/10 12:00 AM
DEQ water group meets
Groundwater steering committee discusses goals, reviews charter
By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
Published: September 10. 2010 4:00AM PST
LA PINE — How to best tackle the controversial task of protecting groundwater in southern Deschutes county was the question on the table Thursday night in La Pine.
The Department of Environmental Quality held the inaugural meeting of its South Deschutes/North Klamath Groundwater Protection Plan steering committee, consisting of 13 area residents who will provide the agency with recommendations.
“Like the rest of the committee members, my desire is that we can find an equitable, sustainable solution that will not bankrupt south County,” said Judy Forsythe.
The committee met to review a draft of its charter, which called for developing a plan to protect groundwater and reduce nitrate contamination, and set out rules and guidelines for the committee.
A U.S. Geological Survey study that started in 1999 found that 10 percent of the drinking water wells sampled contained more nitrates than would be expected naturally, and that the contamination would increase in the coming decades.
The debate over what to do about the contamination of the shallow aquifer around La Pine has been going on for several years.
In 2008, Deschutes County passed an ordinance that would have required some residents to upgrade their septic systems to help protect the aquifer. However, in 2009, residents voted to repeal the ordinance, and the state DEQ took over the task of finding a solution from the county.
Committee’s initial goal
Earlier this year, DEQ decided to form an advisory committee with residents from southern Deschutes and northern Klamath County to try to find some solutions.
The initial goal is to have the committee help the agency figure out a way to move forward on the nitrate issues, and possibly recommend solutions, said Bob Baggett, on-site wastewater specialist with the Bend DEQ office.
One question raised at the meeting was how much sway the committee would actually have.
Committee member Robert Ray asked whether the state agency would recommend the committee’s plan to the county. “Will we have the DEQ’s weight behind our decision?” Ray asked.
Joni Hammond, DEQ’s deputy director, said that staffers with the agency are hesitant to give a definitive answer at this point. But, in general, the agency does accept advisory committee recommendations, she said, after working with the committee members during the process.
“We commit to, along the way, saying what we can do and what we can’t,” Hammond said.
Ray also asked whether there would be additional testing to verify the previous studies that identified contamination, and Hammond said that testing is scheduled for 2011 — as long as the state agency’s budget allows for it.
The committee also debated the wording of the charter — whether it should specify that any solutions be cost-effective, for example, or how other area residents can best contact committee members with their thoughts or concerns.
Members also elected John Blakinger as committee chairman, and Ray as co-chairman.
Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 382-1811 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010