After many years of delay, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is about to renew the permit that allows Clean Water Services (CWS) to discharge wastewater and stormwater to the Tualatin River system.

There are some great innovations in the draft permit.  Clean Water Services will be permitted to use “natural treatment systems” at Fernhill Wetlands to clean and cool effluent from the Forest Grove Wastewater Treatment Plant before it enters the Tualatin River.  The project has also become a tourist attraction with beautiful Japanese style gardens and wetland habitat aimed at attracting migratory birds.  Using wetlands for final treatment saves energy and reduces CO2emissions.  An extensive monitoring program will assure that this pioneering approach is working and help inform changes that could improve the system.

Another significant innovation is allowing Clean Water Services to produce ultra-pure water from their effluent.  This is happening on a tiny scale for demonstration that effluent from the wastewater treatment plant can be further treated to produce water suitable for any domestic use including drinking (and making beer).

Combining all four wastewater treatment plants has allowed for efficiencies and innovations in treating wastewater.  The permit has also allowed innovative programs such as Tree-for-All that allow CWS (and partners) to plant native shade trees along creeks to cool the water, rather than cooling the discharge from their wastewater plants by energy intensive and expensive methods.  But combining the wastewater permit with the stormwater permit has delayed implementation of sustainable stormwater management innovations.  Other large urban areas (Clackamas County, Eugene, Portland, and Salem) had their municipal separate storm sewer (MS4) permits renewed years ago.  Because the CWS’ stormwater permit was combined with the wastewater permit, and DEQ was delayed by litigation that challenged water temperature standards, the CWS stormwater permit was not renewed on time.

Almost 3 years ago, CWS and its partner cities stopped a process to revise the Design and Construction Standards that was supposed to be completed and adopted by the end of 2014.  Without the permit renewal forcing the issue, city engineers resisted improvements to the standards and the process was tabled indefinitely.  The cities own and operate their own parts of the municipal separate storm sewer system.

Now that the renewal of the stormwater permit is finally happening, Tualatin Riverkeepers are looking for significant improvements that will protect our neighborhood creeks from polluted, erosive stormwater runoff, including:

 

Main Street rain garden with trees in Tigard
Main Street Tigard rain garden with trees.

·        Using urban forestry on streets, parking lots and upland areas to reduce stormwater runoff.  TRK asked that the permit and Design & Construction Standards adopt urban forestry standards that were recently developed by the City of Tigard and have received national awards.

·        Reduce impervious surfaces that generate stormwater runoff don’t allow stormwater to soak into the ground.  This was called for in the 2005 Healthy Streams Plan adopted by Washington County and its cities.  Porous pavement, rain gardens, green roofs are all techniques that can reduce effective impervious area and stormwater runoff.  The Riverkeepers have asked that individual cities be tracked for their effective impervious cover reduction.

·        Increasewater recycling including harvesting of stormwater for domestic uses.  Cities in the Tualatin Basin import water from distant rivers including the Trask, Clackamas, Bull Run and Willamette.  Pulling water from these rivers impacts these rivers and requires expensive pipelines and energy intensive pumping.  Locally stormwater is dumped into the nearest creek, causing significant erosion and habitat damage.  Capturing rain and using it where it falls is much more sustainable than importing water from distant watersheds.

·        Make land use decisions that prevent polluted, erosive, stormwater runoff and accommodate sustainable natural stormwater management techniques.  Recent land use decisions have focused new development in areas with shallow slow draining soils, steep slopes and encourage deforestation.  Cooper Mountain and River Terrace are areas with slopes and bedrock close to the surface that precludes stormwater infiltration.  The cost of providing utilities, including stormwater management is significantly higher in these areas.

trash in creeks

·        Reduce trash in the creeks.  Urban creeks collect a lot of trash.  Stormwater permits in Southern California require the cities to prevent this from happening.  We can do better too.

·        Reduce stream temperatures by modifying small dams on tributary creeks.  These dams spread the water out to act like a giant solar collector, making the water too hot for our native trout and salmon.

 

Tualatin Riverkeepers is looking forward to an improved watershed permit from DEQ that will guide improved public policy that cleans and cools our water and makes our river and neighborhood creeks healthier for fish, wildlife and people.