Gov't has two standards for turbidity

By Sen. Doug Whitsett (Distr. 28)
For the Independent   
Turbidity is a measure of water clarity. The loss of clarity is usually caused by mud, silt, organic material and chemical precipitates suspended in the water column.

Turbidity has been measured in Oregon in nephelometric turbidity units (NTU) since 1990. That method essentially measures how deep into a water column we can see with the naked eye. An average person can see an object nearly three feet under water at a turbidity level of 5 NTU. That also happens to be the normal allowable standard for drinking water. In contrast, relatively clear lakes often have turbidity of 25 NTU, visibly muddy water may measure 100 NTU, and at 2,000 NTU water is virtually opaque.

Current standards (OAR 340-041-0036) set allowable summer turbidity in Oregon water
bodies at levels less than or equal to the established 5 NTU drinking water standard. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has set about the minimum level for the protection of aquatic life and their habitats. In many Oregon water bodies this standard leaves little if any margin for anthropogenic activities. In fact, the preponderance of eastern and southern Oregon water bodies may have normal background levels that already exceed that standard during much of the summer and fall.     
The ODEQ is currently in the process of adopting new administrative rules regarding that allowable turbidity in Oregon water bodies. I have deep concerns regarding the department’s process in creating the new rules, their proposed level of enforcement, and the apparent lack of consistency in exerting their current enforcement power.

In my opinion the proposed composition of the committee is heavily weighted toward representatives of government agencies and environmental organizations. The committee will not operate under consensus but will function under majority rule. Those expressing minority positions will have the opportunity to have their concerns noted.

Moreover, ODEQ staff will create the background legal and environmental frameworks from which the committee will work. They will suggest the content of draft rules, and will edit any of the committee’s proposed changes in the rule drafts. The staff will record committee positions on flip charts and then develop brief summaries of those positions for the committee and the public. There is no mention of requirements to either record the meetings or to keep accurate and comprehensive minutes of the meetings.

The protocol makes clear that ODEQ may or may not accept the committee recommendations. In my opinion, ODEQ staff has a long history of systematically ignoring public input that does not support their intended actions. The too familiar structure of the committee protocol suggests that will not change.

ODEQ staff will then recommend their draft rules that are supposedly blessed in this manner by the public committee, to the Environmental Quality Commission. The final rules adopted by the EQC must then be approved by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Savage Rapids and Gold Ray dams on the Rogue River were demolished without regard to the decades of sedimentation that had accumulated behind the dams. That sediment was summarily turned loose down the river for the people and the aquatic species to deal with.  Many people who live on the Rogue River have stated that they believe that the river below the dam sites is sick, being smothered by that sediment plume moving down river. I know of no government studies even attempting to measure either the amount of the sediment behind those relatively small dams or the damage that the sediment may be causing.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement recently issued by the Department of Interior proposes the demolition of the four hydropower dams on the Klamath River without regard to an estimated 20 million cubic yards of sediment accumulated behind those dams. They propose to simply let nature take its course and wash the sediment down river. That amount of sediment is equivalent to about 2 million ten yard dump truck loads of silt, sediment and organic muck. To put that amount into perspective, lined up head to tail, 2 million dump truck loads of river muck would stretch about half way around the planet. Another report previously commissioned by the Department of Interior, the Camp, Dresser & McKee report, suggests the 20 million cubic yard estimate may be a gross underestimation of the actual amount of sediment accumulated behind the dams.

It appears that our government regulations have two standards.

One standard holds private citizens to a standard that severely restricts, or virtually bars their activities in or near water bodies. Removal and fill activities, recreational mining, as well as forest road construction and maintenance require obtaining expensive time consuming permits. Often the permits are denied citing too much potential sediment disturbance and release. We are told that large fines are routinely levied for minor infractions of the sediment and turbidity rules.

The other standard allows government entities to do pretty much whatever they wish so long as their purpose is politically correct and adheres to the desires of the environmentalist agenda.

How can we justify dumping the equivalent of two million dump truck loads of sediment into the Klamath River to expedite the  politically correct demolition of hydroelectric dams, while at the same time citing and prosecuting foresters, agriculturalists and recreationalists for stirring up a little sediment in their pursuit of family entertainment?

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