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Pollution plans will take a while, cost a lot

Published Feb. 29, 2004


Stringent water pollution standards are coming down the pipe, but they won't be completed for a while, Oregon and California environmental officials told local interests last week.

The good news? The plan won't be complete until June 2005 for the Lost River, and December 2005 for the Klamath River. Then there are years of approval by higher-ups, and then most polluters have five years to design a plan and put it into effect.

The bad news? It will cost a lot of money, according to Klamath Falls and South Suburban Sanitary District officials, and do relatively little to improve the streams, according to everyone at the meeting, even some of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality staffers.

The rules are called "total maximum daily loads," or TMDLs for short. They will prescribe how much polluters can put into the streams.

"I think the really tough issue we have with dealing with the TMDLs here: It may not have a very significant affect on the river," said Dick Nichols, manager for the Bend water quality section of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality."And that's very troubling to me, and I'm not sure exactly we're going to handle that."

The meeting, which started with an explanation of the process by DEQ employee and Klamath Basin TMDL Coordinator Steve Kirk, was a chance for officials from Oregon California, to hear how local city officials and farmers had to say. They got an earful.

Tracey Liskey, a farmer who's served on state committees on water quality management in the past, said: "You're coming at us from the top down instead of the bottom up. You're going to throw us documents and we're gonna read them in our spare time? I feel that you're going be missing a lot of things because you don't have the local involvement of the people."

Nichols said during the meeting he didn't think there was a way to incorporate local opinion from the general public and still make the deadlines, but he said afterward he'd consider every option available. "I'm willing to think about any other ways that make folks feel better about getting in public input," he said. Under current plans, South Suburban could end up spending between $24 and $72 million to meet the requirements, and the city expenditure would be comparable.

"I'm just wondering if the preference of this group is to lose 7 million gallons out of the river each day" asked City Councilor Bill Adams. "Water that's actually cleaner than the river?" City Manager Jeff Ball also chimed in. "I suspect that downstream interests in California might have a little bit of an economic concern about the water," he said. "Does that bring it back into a concern?"

Nichols said he didn't have all the answers. "It seems like it ought to, doesn't it? It's a little bit of a problem. I don't know how you deal with that."

The Oregon DEQ is under pressure to meet its current deadlines because of a California court order that sets up a timeline to force all bodies of water on a protected list to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act.

The TMDL rules must be complete for the Klamath River by December 2005, adopted by the regional TMDL board by October 2006 and approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency by August 2007. Kirk said there will be meetings at each stage in the approval process. He expects to hold a similar meeting in June.





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