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Feds say Oregon must improve coastal pollution controls

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Runoff from agriculture and logging threaten marine ecosystems along the Oregon coast. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

State could lose funding for key water programs

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Oregon is at risk of losing federal funding for coastal and Clean Water Act funding if it doesn’t beef up its coastal nonpoint pollution control program, federal agencies said this week.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the EPA say the state plan doesn’t adequately address nonpoint source impacts from agricultural activities. Specifically,

Oregon needs to show how it will control impacts from logging, including measures for protecting small and medium sized streams; measures to protect landslide prone areas; and measures to address runoff from forest roads built prior to modern construction and drainage requirements.

Oregon also needs to ensure that septic systems are inspected and properly maintained and that sediment runoff from new development does not enter rivers and streams, the federal agencies said at the start of a 90-day public comment period on the proposal to disapprove the State of Oregon’s coastal nonpoint pollution control program.

As early as 2006, scientists reported that the most severe low-oxygen ocean conditions ever observed on the West Coast of the United States turned parts of the seafloor off Oregon into a carpet of dead Dungeness crabs and rotting sea worms, a new survey shows. Virtually all of the fish appeared to have fled the area.

Scientist who looked for signs of the end of this “dead zone,” instead found even more extreme drops in oxygen along the seafloor. This is by far the worst such event since the phenomenon was first identified in 2002, according to researchers at Oregon State University. Levels of dissolved oxygen are approaching zero in some locations.

“We saw a crab graveyard and no fish the entire day,” said Jane Lubchenco, the Valley Professor of Marine Biology at OSU, who later became the chief NOAA administrator. “Thousands and thousands of dead crab and molts were littering the ocean floor, many sea stars were dead, and the fish have either left the area or have died and been washed away.

“Oregon is a leader in coastal management, and we hope it can be a leader in protecting coastal water quality from nonpoint source pollution, too,” says Margaret Davidson, acting director of NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. “Preventing and reducing coastal nonpoint source pollution, as the Coastal Nonpoint Program is designed to do, is critical to protecting coastal waterways.”

Nonpoint source pollution is the most significant remaining water quality issue in the state and the nation,” notes Dennis McLerran, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. “EPA and NOAA are committed to continuing to work with Oregon to develop a fully approvable Coastal Nonpoint Program.”

Under the terms  of a settlement agreement, EPA and NOAA are required to make a final decision by May 15, 2014. The settlement agreement stems from a 2009 lawsuit filed against NOAA and the EPA by environmental groups.

Oregon first submitted its coastal nonpoint pollution control program to the agencies in 1995. According to NOAA, Oregon has developed a strong program in most areas. required under CZARA. But the court settlement showed critical gaps relating to water quality impacts from forestry, septic systems, and new development.

Historically, NOAA, EPA and the states have worked together to develop fully approvable programs. Oregon has expressed a desire to continue working with NOAA and EPA towards full approval and the federal agencies stand ready to help Oregon achieve that goal.

Public comments should be sent by March 21 to: Joelle Gore, Acting Chief, Coastal Programs Division (N/ORM3), Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, NOS, NOAA, 1305 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, Maryland, 20910, phone (301) 713-3155, x177, or by email joelle.gore@noaa.gov.

The proposed findings document and supporting information used to make this decision is available for download on the NOAA website online. Hard copies will be available at: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Oregon Operations Office, 805 SW Broadway, Suite 500, Portland, Oregon 97205. Contact: Tom Townsend (503) 326-3250.

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