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EPA approves toughened Oregon water quality standards

Friday, October 21, 2011
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

Oregon’s Water Quality Standards, with the stiffest water pollution regulations in the country, were approved Monday (Oct. 17) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The adopted standards use new human health criteria based on a new fish consumption rate. The standards are designed to better protect Native Americans and others who eat more fish than the general population.

The new standards were developed over several years by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in collaboration with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the EPA.

The new standards are in effect as of EPA’s approval. Oregon will not reevaluate existing wastewater discharge permits, which are effective for five years, as called for in the federal Clean Water Act. Rather the state will consider each permit as it comes up for renewal, which is a continual on-going process.

The new fish consumption rate increases by 10 fold, from 17.5 grams a day (about the amount of fish that would fit on a soda cracker) to 175 grams a day (about 23 eight-ounce meals a month), the amount of fish that can safely be consumed, according to state and federal agencies.

The fish consumption rate is an important factor for developing human health standards. The more fish, shellfish and water people consume containing toxic pollutants, for instance mercury, dioxins and pesticides, the more they’re at risk for developing illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological and behavioral disorders and kidney disease.

The new standards, which will restrict the amount of pollutants released into Oregon’s waterways, are expected to dramatically effect industrial facilities and larger municipal sewage treatment facilities (generally for cities with populations of 10,000 residents or more) operating under wastewater discharge permits in Oregon.

In some cases, permit holders that cannot meet a permit limit due to one or more reasons stated in the variance rule – such as when available treatment technologies are prohibitively expensive or when human-caused or naturally-occurring pollutant levels preclude meeting water quality standards – can apply for a variance.

Forestry, agricultural, construction and other activities will be affected. However, the Oregon DEQ intends to interact with the Agriculture and Forestry departments to help pollution runoff sources implement management practices to reduce toxic runoff from farm and timber lands.

In addition, DEQ will also offer “new permitting implementation tools” to assist dischargers in making changes. Several of these tools take into account levels of background pollutants already present in a discharger’s intake water through intake credits and a site-specific background pollutant provision.

In August, the new standards drew a great deal of interest and concern from the business and agricultural community, legislators and others who fear they will be overly restrictive. But DEQ will work closely with all those affected to ensure these changes are implemented fairly and effectively. We will monitor the new regulations’ effectiveness and report back to legislators and others on how the new standards are working.

“EPA’s decision endorses the years of hard work by the state and the Umatilla Tribe,” said Dick Pedersen, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Director. “The standard allows us to move forward as Oregon decides how best to reduce toxics in collaboration and in a thoughtful way to improve water so fish are safe and the people who eat fish are safe.” Pedersen said that without the influence of the Umatilla Tribes, DEQ probably would not have pushed as hard for new human health criteria.

“Without their leadership the task would have been a lot harder than it was,” he said. “I don’t think we would have pushed as hard without the tribal component. Through collaboration, the tribes were instrumental in what we ended up getting.”

In August, the Oregon EQC approved the standards by a 4-1 margin, with Vice Chair Ken Williamson saying the standards “provide greater protections for sensitive populations. As a society we need to provide these protections. We are moving in the right direction.”

The new rules put limits on 104 toxic pollutants (48 non-carcinogens and 56 carcinogens) based on studies that have documented that certain populations, including Native Americans, eat more fish than the general population in the United States, and that toxics found in fish from Oregon waterways cause cancer, and effect immune, reproductive and nervous systems.

Prior to its efforts to develop these new revisions, DEQ developed and adopted rules in 2004.

At the time (2004) that Oregon approved those standards, the Umatilla Tribes expressed concerns to EPA that the standards were not protective enough for high fish consumers and did not meet EPA’s guidance that local data be used to make decisions on criteria.

The new adopted rules address EPA’s disapproval of DEQ’s 2004 criteria and obviate the need for EPA to promulgate federal rules for Oregon.The draft document is available on DOE’s fish consumption web portal, which can be found at www.ecy.wa.gov.

The comment period ends Dec. 30, 2011.

Columbia Basin Bulletin

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Hermiston Farm Fair returns for three day event

Thursday, October 20, 2011
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

The 38th Annual Hermiston Farm Fair and Trade Show will be Wednesday, November 30, through Friday, December 2, 2011 at the Hermiston Conference Center, located at 415 S. Highway 395.

The Farm Fair is an agricultural forum co-sponsored by OSU Extension Service, the Agriculture Committee and the Greater Hermiston Chamber of Commerce. Local agriculture-related businesses will be displaying their wares and services, both inside and outside the Conference Center. Agriculture-related seminars will be offered all three days.

The Potato Production Seminar will be all day on Wednesday. Concurrently, we will hold the Crop Seminar. Thursday morning on the Main Stage the Ag Issues Forum will cover topics of importance to agriculture in our region, one being Ground Water Management.

Thursday afternoon the General Session will be on the Main Stage and the pesticide Core Program use will be offered in the Altrusa Room. Friday morning, another general session will be offered, directed toward pesticide recertification credits on the Main Stage and another pesticide Core Program will be offered in the Altrusa Room.

All sessions are free to attendees except for a $10.00 fee for each of the two Core Programs. No pre-registration is required for the seminars. Oregon, Washington and Idaho pesticide recertification credits will be available, in addition to CCA credits. A full Farm Fair agenda with pesticide credit hours will be available by mid to late November.

The Hermiston Farm Fair Banquet will be held on Thursday night at Desert River Inn. Dinner will be prime rib, $25 per person. A no-host social hour will begin the evening at 6:00 p.m. There will be entertainment by Jesse Fletcher. Tickets are available from the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce.

The Farm Fair is a great opportunity to gain knowledge and visit with friends and neighbors over a variety of freshly prepared refreshments courtesy of our local food processors, ConAgra Lamb Weston, Hermiston Foods, Shearers Foods and Columbia River Processing.

Come and treat yourself at the 38th Annual Hermiston Farm Fair starting Wednesday, November 30.

Hermiston Ag Research & Extension Center

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New fish passage for Umatilla Lamprey spurs higher return

Friday, October 14, 2011
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

It may not seem like a lot, but the return of 138 lamprey to a specially designed ladder on the lower Umatilla River, an eastern Oregon tributary of the Columbia River, has surprised fisheries experts who expected smaller returns that would take much longer to materialize.

“We’re trying to figure out why we have so many more in the Umatilla,” said Aaron Jackson, lamprey technician for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the tribe leading an effort to restore the prehistoric fish.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its Pacific Lamprey Assessment and Template for Conservation Measures, the first phase of a broader initiative to conserve and restore the species throughout its range.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has established a Juvenile Larval Lamprey Work Group that likely will consider a number of methods for monitoring passage at Columbia River dams, said Jackson, a member of the working group. Those methods could include tagging juvenile lamprey and then following their migration downstream as 5-7-inch juveniles to the Pacific Ocean and back 10-30 months later as adults to their spawning grounds throughout the Columbia River Basin.

A Tribal Lamprey Management Plan is going through final editing before it will be released by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in the next few months.

“This calls for serious attention,” Jackson said. “The funding gates need to start opening so we can learn more about lamprey. At one time there were probably several million in the Columbia Basin and it’s not unfathomable that we could have as many as 20,000 in the Umatilla River. The populations are depressed and we’re struggling to figure out why that is.”

Restoring lamprey in the Columbia River Basin will require passage improvements for both migrating juveniles and adults. Juveniles have an option of using a screened salmon bypass system, where they often are impinged in the screen mesh, through “strike and shear” turbines, or over spillways.

“We’re trying to figure out the best route,” Jackson said. This year, again for an unknown reason, the number of adult lamprey returning to the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean is higher than normal. This year’s run of an estimated 50,000 lamprey is twice the number that passed over Bonneville Dam last year.

Regardless of the total numbers, the run is reduced dramatically before it reaches the Umatilla River as the lamprey navigate The Dalles and John Day dams, and enter other tributaries.

“We’re losing 50 percent at every dam,” Jackson said. “That means this year that through attrition we’re down to 25,000 at The Dalles and then 12,500 at the John Day.”
Without proper monitoring, it’s hard to say exactly how many are reaching the Umatilla.

“I’d like to say the adult returns are from our translocation program, but it’s difficult to say without tagging or some kind of detection,” Jackson said. “We’re talking about PIT tagging juveniles in the Umatilla and if we get them back as adults then we can say they were reared in the Umatilla.”

Although they can’t say whether or not the returning adults were spawned in the Umatilla from released adults (annually as many as 600 to as few as 68, depending on the number gathered from John Day Dam) in the headwaters over the last 11 years, the Umatilla Tribes can point with “excitement” to this year’s return, which is eight times higher than last year’s count of 17 adults.

The increase can be attributed to a number of positive things, Jackson said, not the least of which is higher flows in the lower three miles of the Umatilla River. That section often dries up between May and October, just before and just after the peak migration of lamprey, which cross over the John Day Dam in a July-to-August window.

To remedy that low-water problem, the Bonneville Power Administration is funding baseline flows of about 75 cubic feet per second through the federal Umatilla Basin Project, which exchanges water from the Columbia River for farmers who leave the same amount in the Umatilla for fish during the spring growing season.

Jackson believes that extra water is pushing out into the Columbia juvenile lamprey pheromones (a chemical substance that triggers reproduction) that attract adult lamprey moving up the Columbia.

Those pheromones were stopped at Three Mile before the additional BPA-funded flows during that peak adult migration period. Once the adults entered the Umatilla River they also were stopped at Three Mile, a concrete diversion built by the federal government to irrigate lands in the early 1900s, which, incidentally, caused expiration of salmon.

But now the new lamprey ladder on the east side of the river is giving tribes hope that lamprey can make a comeback. Built with funding from BPA’s 10-year Accords Project Funding and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife grant, the lamprey ladder project is designed to see if lamprey can better reach waters above diversion dams, in this case Three Mile Falls Dam.

Prior to the lamprey ladder, the fish – sometimes called eels – had to use outdated salmon bypass ladders or suck their way up and over about 20 feet of concrete to the other side.

“Of the 138 we counted, 115 used the new ladder and 23 used the old salmon fish way or climbed the dam,” Jackson said.

The fish ladder, with sharp 90 degree corners, was not suited to lamprey, which rely on the suction of their mouths to reach the waters above Three Mile Falls Dam. The new ladder has rounded edges with a 45 degree climb so lamprey can keep their attachment up and over the structure.

Although the value of the fish has been generally dismissed, the adaptable lamprey is a traditional and ceremonial food for tribes throughout the region.

“The tribes have a vested interest because lamprey are culturally significant,” Jackson said. “They are a prized fish to us.”

“Lamprey predate dinosaurs,” Jackson said. “These critters are really old and it bothers me to think that in my lifetime they could potentially go extinct. It’s not acceptable; it’s unfathomable to think they’ve been around that long and could be gone within my lifetime.”

Columbia Basin Bulletin

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Steller Sea Lions show increased presence, consumption

Friday, October 14, 2011
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

The good news for salmon advocates was that California sea lions’ consumption of fish below the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam was down in the spring of 2011 after steady increases each year since 2004.

But the bad news may be that Steller sea lions were snapping up more spring chinook salmon and steelhead than ever before.

The Corps since 2002 has been observing the behavior of predatory California sea lions, as well as other pinnipeds, in an attempt to estimate the big marine mammals’ impact on steelhead and spring chinook salmon stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Until recent years Stellers in the vicinity seemed to focus almost exclusively on white sturgeon that have tended, at least in recent years, to huddle together in relatively large numbers below the dam. And the California sea lions stuck mostly to chinook salmon.

The CSLs in 2011 did again take the majority of the salmon and steelhead that were observed taken below the dam, but their share is slipping.

The estimates of salmon take includes observed daytime catch that is interpolated for hours and days not observed and adjusted to factor in captured fish that observers could not identify. Observers were stationed at each of the three major tailrace areas of Bonneville Dam — Powerhouse 1 near the Oregon shore, Powerhouse 2 on the Washington shore and in the spillway mid-river spillway.

They used binoculars to observe and record pinniped presence, identify and record fish catches, and identify individual California and Steller sea lions when possible.

Observers completed over 3,315 hours of observations between Jan. 7 and May 31, 2011.

“During that period, observers saw pinnipeds catch and consume 4,489 fish of several species: adult salmonids, White Sturgeon and American Shad.

“Observers were unable to identify 18.6 percent (n=833) of the fish caught and consumed by pinnipeds during this period.

“While surface observations are a useful tool for assessing sea lion diet at Bonneville Dam, pinnipeds can consume smaller prey underwater unseen by observers, so all consumption estimates and associated impacts outlined in this report should be considered minimum estimates,” according to the report.

“The estimated percent of the run taken has declined each year since a high of 4.2 percent in 2007, reflecting an increase in the run size each year since 2007,” until a slight dropoff this year.

The estimates of the actual number of salmonids taken by salmonids has risen each year, until 2011. The peak estimate was 6,321 in 2010 (2.4 percent of the run that year; the estimate this year is 3,970).

“In 2011, the expanded white sturgeon consumption estimate for our study area was 2,178, continuing the upward trend of predation on sturgeon in the Bonneville Dam tailrace,” according to the report. “When unidentified catch was divided proportionally according to daily catch distributions and added to the expanded sturgeon consumption estimate, the adjusted consumption estimate was 3,003.”

During the first year (2005) that Steller sea lion consumption of sturgeon was tallied only one was observed taken. But the number of Stellers camped out below the dam in late winter and spring, and their consumption, has increased every year since.

The sea lion population that zeroes in on salmon, white sturgeon, shad, lamprey and other fish below the dam has become dominated by the Stellers. Over the past two years, unusually large numbers of CSL have moved north of California after the summer breeding season. In 2009 this was likely the result of a significant warm water event related to El Nino that caused many CSL to move northward in search of cooler waters and abundant prey.

In 2009 and 2010, increasing numbers of young, sub-adult sea lions have been observed at many locations in Oregon and Washington.

A large drop in both the CSL salmonid predation and CSL abundance for 2011, to levels not seen since 2003, show the full impact of the three years of the CSL removal program conducted 2008 through 2010, as the full impact of those animals removed in 2010 could not be fully realized until the results of the 2011 season were in.

“It does appear to indicate that the removal program was gradually reducing the abundance and predation on salmonids caused by CSL. However, the unusual event of the influx of large numbers of new CSL males showing up at Bonneville Dam tailrace in 2010, coupled with the virtual halting of removal actions in 2011, have and will make further analysis of this program more difficult.

“The increasing presence and salmon predation by SSL at Bonneville Dam could also continue to complicate the issue, if current trends persist.”

Columbia Basin Bulletin

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Ocean Observatories Initiative to launch undersea gliders

Friday, October 14, 2011
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

Oregon State University will launch a fleet of undersea gliders in 2012 and deploy new moored ocean-observing platforms beginning the following year as part of the $386 million Ocean Observatories Initiative.

The OOI is a major marine science infrastructure project funded by the National Science Foundation and announced two years ago.

A significant piece of the OOI’s “Endurance Array” will be located off the coast of Newport, Ore., which increasingly has been under scientific scrutiny because of issues ranging from hypoxia and “dead zones” to climate change impacts, subduction zone earthquakes, tsunamis, harmful algal blooms, wave energy potential, ocean acidification and dramatic variations in some upwelling-fed fisheries.

During the past summer, OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences has been designing and testing an array of equipment that will be deployed beginning in the spring of 2013. Testing of the new gliders will begin this fall.

“We’re in the final stage of testing many of the instruments,” said Robert Collier, OSU’s program manager for the initiative. “This project is really unprecedented. We’ll be monitoring the ocean in ways it has never been looked at before, and sharing the data in real time with scientists, managers, educators and the public around the world.”

The OOI will result in a networked infrastructure of science-driven sensor systems to measure the physical, chemical, geological and biological variables in the ocean and seafloor. The idea is to provide greater knowledge of the ocean’s interrelated systems, which is vital for understanding their effects on biodiversity, ocean and coastal ecosystems and climate change.

Creating a network of sensors that can accurately measure the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the marine environment – and still withstand the rugged Pacific Ocean – is a major challenge, acknowledges Ed Dever, OSU’s systems engineer for the project.

“For one thing, what happens at the surface is different than what is going on along the seafloor,” Dever said, “so we have to have instrumentation that can monitor both. And the water in between is ever-changing. So the mooring sites will be designed in a way that we will be able to measure changes throughout the water column.”

Beginning in the spring of 2013, the first three (of six) mooring systems will be deployed – all off the coast of Newport. The final three will be deployed in 2014 off Grays Harbor, Wash. The Newport sites will be located at one mile, 10 miles and 33 miles offshore, with the outer two sites connected to the undersea cable.

Each site will feature a surface buoy that will monitor the air-sea interface, and measure air and sea surface temperatures, solar radiation, humidity, air pressure and other variables. The site will include a seafloor platform containing its own array of instruments, including sensors to measure dissolved oxygen for hypoxia studies, carbon dioxide levels, pH and nitrogen.

Other sensors will actively observe larger plankton and fish, while “passive” acoustic devices will listen for marine mammals. A third instrument array will continuously move up and down through the full water column, tethered to the seafloor.

“The suite of instruments will really allow us to look at what is happening in the ocean and discover when changes occur,” Collier said. “Some of the biological sensors, for example, will be able to model primary production through chlorophyll and light levels, and another will use acoustic backscatter that can estimate zooplankton density.

“However, it’s not these individual measurements that are really new,” Collier added. “It’s the fact that we’ll be monitoring the ocean 24 hours a day, all year long, instead of looking at it periodically from ships of opportunity.” One limitation, Dever said, is that these mooring sites will be located only off Newport and Grays Harbor, “giving us great vertical resolution, but only two lines of observations spanning the entire coast.” To cover more of the Northwest regional ocean, the OSU oceanographers will deploy a dozen new undersea gliders beginning in 2012. Six gliders at a time will patrol the ocean from the Canadian border to southern Oregon. These sophisticated machines can be programmed to run for 2-3 months from the near-shore to the continental slope and every six hours they will rise to the surface and transmit data to OOI computers via satellite.

Instruments aboard the gliders will record temperatures, salinity, biological production and dissolved oxygen – many of the same measurements being made from mooring instruments. “One difference,” Collier said, “is that the mooring platforms will give us a constant look at six places, while the gliders will give us larger views of the coast ocean from Oregon to Canada.”

The gliders are incredibly productive, said Jack Barth, OSU’s project scientist. “In more than half a century of work, OSU scientists have recorded about 4,000 profiles of the near-shore from ships,” Barth said. “During the past five years, the handful of gliders we already utilize have logged more than 156,000 profiles – nearly 40 times what six decades of shipboard studies have provided.

“That’s pretty amazing, when you think about it,” Barth added. “Each year alone, we log more profiles than have ever been recorded via ship off Newport. And that will only increase as the Ocean Observatories Initiative reaches fruition.”

The Ocean Observatories Initiative team at OSU has grown to 17 staff scientists, engineers and technicians, and the university expects to add even more people to operate the Endurance Array over the next few years, Collier said.

“We are excited to be so close to getting this into the water,” Collier said. “This dream we’ve been developing for more than a decade will soon be a reality.”

Columbia Basin Bulletin

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