More Delays on Wastewater Decision

Corvallis' Wastewater Treatment Plant; photo by Genevieve Weber
Corvallis’ Wastewater Treatment Plant; photo by Genevieve Weber

During the summer months, something must be done to cool Corvallis’ wastewater before it ends up in the Willamette. Currently, it does not meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards set to protect endangered salmon. But now, the EPA has been forced to set more stringent regulations, slowing down a decision-making process underway in Corvallis since 2009. That year, the city hired a consultant to come up with suggestions for how to meet the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) standards for TMDLs, or total maximum daily loads of mercury, bacteria, and other factors that affect a body of water’s health. These suggestions include the East, West, South, and North alternatives as well as a pollution-trading program proposed by a non-profit organization called the Fresh Water Trust.

One of the more likely alternatives, the North Alternative (estimated lifecycle cost: $26 million) would discharge water into a constructed wetlands on the Bean Field, a large field to the east of the Hewlett-Packard site. There would be no subsurface discharge, as was proposed initially, due to concerns put forth by citizens.

Under the East Alternative ($15 million), part of the wastewater would irrigate the Trysting Tree Golf Course. Another part would go through a constructed wetlands at Orleans Natural Area.

The Fresh Water Trust has proposed something else entirely.

“This is a non-profit group that proposes tree planting, riparian shading work, in lieu of actually cooling off our discharge,” explained Utilities Division Manager Tom Penpraze of the Public Works Department. “If you make improvements in one location, they’ll offset pollutants coming in from another one.”

Under this option, the city would restore stream bed in other areas to enhance salmon habitat, provided it could find property owners willing to face alterations to their land. Trees would be planted alongside smaller streams upstream of Corvallis to provide shade and cool the water. The city’s discharge would be unchanged.

The most comprehensive solution, estimated at $365 million, involves a chiller that would mechanically cool the wastewater.

For now, it looks as if none of these alternatives will see the light of day anytime soon. A Portland-based environmental organization called Northwest Environmental Advocates last month sued the EPA—and won.

“They said that the EPA didn’t follow its rules and regulations in approving Oregon’s TMDL standard,” said Penpraze. “Their complaint is that it’s not stringent enough.”

The EPA has 120 days to come up with more stringent standards for Oregon’s TMDL.

“That kind of puts us in limbo,” Penpraze said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen until at the very earliest August. Our recommendation to the City Council is that they hold off on any decisions.”

The main reason behind suspending a decision is that the chosen course of action may not meet the new standards come August. Although the city is not facing any fines for its delay in meeting the as-yet-determined standards, it has spent more than $800,000 in consulting fees. The Urban Services Committee is continuing to discuss the pros and cons of each alternative at its meetings. For more information or to comment, visit http://www.ci.corvallis.or.us/tmdl.

By Jen Matteis

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