Monthly Archives: January 2014

January 29, 2014: Molalla Pioneer Article

City of Molalla threatened with lawsuit

Created on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 00:00 | Written by Peggy Savage
A local conservation group, Bear Creek Recovery, provided notice Friday to the city of Molalla that it intends to file a civil lawsuit in federal court to protect Bear Creek and the Molalla River from violations of the city’s Clean Water Act permit.

Bear Creek Recovery’s concerns arise from the city’s history of unlawful operation of its wastewater treatment facility and what Bear Creek Recovery considers a failure by the city to take corrective action.

A 60-day notice included with the letter stated: “Unless the city takes the steps necessary to remedy ongoing violations of the CWA and the NPDES Permit, BCR intends to file suit against the city of Molalla in the U.S. District Court immediately following the expiration of the required sixty day notice period, seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties in the amount of $37,500 per day per violation enumerated below and for any additional, similar violations that BCR may discover subsequently.”

The notice to the city was made via certified mail in a letter dated Jan. 24, 2014.

City Manager Dan Huff said Monday morning that the city of Molalla had not as yet received the notice concerning the lawsuit.

“If we do receive something, our attorneys will handle the issue,” Huff said.

The city of Molalla operates its sewage treatment plant under a permit issued by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

The city disposes of treated wastewater during the dry months by spraying the wastewater on fields outside the city limits adjacent to Bear Creek. The DEQ permit places limits on the irrigation practices utilized by the city and on its disposal of biosolids and management of the sewage treatment plant.

DEQ records show that the city has violated the terms of the permit over the past five years, particularly during the summer months, by applying treated wastewater on unauthorized land sites and in quantities that caused ponding and runoff on the fields.

The city’s largest irrigation field, which includes sections of Coleman Ranch, surrounds a stretch of Bear Creek, contains a number of sensitive wetlands and contributes flow to the creek, especially when the soil is saturated.

DEQ sent several warning letters to the city last fall notifying city officials of the violations and directing the city to cease the unlawful activity. The DEQ, however, has not brought an enforcement action against the city of Molalla.

Hansen, a local citizen, is concerned over the potential for pollutants to reach Bear Creek, impacting fish and wildlife habitat as well as posing a risk to the public who live and recreate near the creek.

“We can no longer sit back while DEQ looks the other way,” Hansen said. “We have a right as citizens to uphold the Clean Water Act and see that the city shows progress toward improving water quality in Bear Creek and the Molalla River.”

Under the Clean Water Act, individual citizens or groups may bring an action against an alleged violator. The citizen suit provision of the Clean Water Act serves to supplement both state and federal government enforcement actions so that all citizens can protect the waters they care about and depend upon.

This would be the second time that the city of Molalla is sued under the Clean Water Act for mismanagement of its sewage treatment plant. The city was also sued in 2006 for similar violations, said Christopher Winter, staff attorney and director of Crag Law Center, a public interest law firm based in Portland.

“It’s a sensitive topic,” Winter said. “We are hoping that the city will make a genuine effort to comply with this permit over the next two months, and we hope to be able to talk to the city about it.”

Winter said he handled the 2006 lawsuit against the city of Molalla for Molalla Irrigation Company. That case resulted in a settlement.

“Molalla Irrigation was involved, and a big part of that settlement related to irrigation practices,” he said. “So in many ways, the problems addressed by that settlement seem to be recurring.”

Maura Fahey, a legal fellow with the firm, stated that “Bear Creek Recovery is hopeful that we are able to resolve these issues with the city before formal litigation becomes necessary.”

Bear Creek Recovery is an Oregon non-profit organization formed to advocate for and protect the environment of Bear Creek and the surrounding community. Bear Creek Recovery has members who live, recreate, and work in the Bear Creek watershed, including near fields where the city of Molalla sprays and irrigates fields with recycled wastewater from the Molalla STP facility. Bear Creek Recovery is working to protect the Bear Creek watershed from threats to environmental and public health.

BCR board members include Jeff Lewis, chairman; Harlan Shober, vice chairman; Susan Hansen, secretary; Patricia Ross, treasurer; Pat Conley and Mitchell Ross.


Copied 8/23/2014 from:
http://portlandtribune.com/mop/157-news/208858-66574-city-of-molalla-threatened-with-lawsuit

January 2014: 60-day Notice of Violations by City of Molalla STP (final version)

When a municipal sewage treatment plant fails to comply with the Clean Water Act, citizens have a right to take legal action. The process requires that the aggrieved first submit a 60-day notice, as a warning of the intent to file a civil action. This affords the municipality an opportunity to responsibly correct identified noncompliances.

On January 24, 2014, the CRAG Law Center (Cascade Resources Advocacy Group) filed a 60-day notice with the City of Molalla, on behalf of Bear Creek Recovery and Susan Hansen. Within the notice, a long series of failures were identified.

Here is a portion of the first page; click on the image to open a PDF of the full 10-page document.

(click on image to view/download pdf copy)

(click on image to view/download 10-pg PDF copy)

January 24, 2014: Letter to the Editor

The following is Bear Creek Recovery’s Letter to the Editor, as published in the Molalla Pioneer…


Molalla and the Clean Water Act: Why We Care

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. “ – Loran Eisely, The Immense Journey

As you travel around the Molalla countryside, have you noticed all the “magic waters” that gather and flow? Our hills and dales are filled with springs, vernal pools, wetlands, creeks and one amazing wild and scenic river. Some of our watersheds feed the Molalla River; many others flow west to join the Pudding River. Some water emerges and then seeps below ground to recharge our wells. All our gathering waters finally join the Willamette and the Columbia. Along the way – from the tiniest springs and seasonal pools to the mighty Columbia – wildlife, domestic animals and humans depend on clean water to survive.

Last spring, a group of local people gathered to discuss concerns about Molalla area watersheds. A non-profit called Bear Creek Recovery (BCR) was formed. Bear Creek was chosen as a symbol of a local watershed in need of mitigation and protection. BCR’s goals include working to educate the public about Bear Creek and its adjoining watersheds and wetlands.

BCR has learned a great deal about the functions of local watersheds and identified threats to our fragile wetland environments. We have focused on Molalla’s wastewater treatment plant, because the City discharges treated effluent into the Molalla River while it also, during the dry months, applies tens of millions of gallons of wastewater to areas of the Bear Creek Watershed. What we learned is that the City is falling behind on the most basic upkeep and maintenance causing major problems for our watersheds. For years, the City has been using illegal disposal sites. For its part, DEQ has looked the other way and has never once enforced the permit against the City.

Molalla’s violations revolve around inflow and infiltration of groundwater into the old sewers (I&I), lack of adequate recycled water application sites, sewage sludge accumulation and ponding, run-off and creek re-charge from over-irrigating with recycled water

A recent report from DEQ indicates that an estimated 500,000 gallons per day of groundwater and stormwater are entering its sewage system, which overwhelms the treatment plant. The City’s I&I problems has been known for years, yet DEQ continues to allow the City to delay taking significant steps to fix the failing sewer pipes. DEQ now proposes to amend the City’s permit without requiring the most basic maintenance of the City’s system.

Here is what Molalla’s former Director of Public Works, Dean Madison, stated in a memo to DEQ in 1997: “Molalla has major I&I problems…flows up to 100 times normally acceptable levels…the entire older system has high I&I throughout.” Seventeen years later, no aggressive action has been taken to solve the I&I problems. DEQ should ensure that the City actually begins resolving the I&I issue under its new permit, but, based on the draft permit, this is not likely to happen.

What is DEQ’s answer? It proposes to rubber stamp the illegal disposal sites that Molalla has been using for years. That’s like punishing your child by patting him on the back and saying, “nice job, son.” Even with multiple unpermitted sites in use in the past, Molalla caused overspray, ponding, run-off and re-charge of Bear Creek; at times the city disposed of recycled water in the Molalla River during summer and fall. With DEQ unwilling to police the City, violations will likely continue.

Another major problem is that once water is separated and processed to be recycled, the City is left with sewer sludge (biosolids), which fills up its lagoons. This build-up of sludge has contributed to the City’s need to violate its permit in the past to avoid lagoon overflow and failure. The City needs to clean out its system, dispose of the sludge properly, and get back on track.

Water may seem “magic” but there is no alchemy that can solve the many water quality problems we observe in Molalla. It will take education, cooperation and, ultimately, major changes to Molalla’s practices to meet compliance with the Clean Water Act. BCR’s 60 day notice is an invitation for all local stakeholders – urban and rural – to work together immediately to find solutions for Molalla’s recycled water, I&I and biosolids violations. This is the least that we should expect from the City as a good neighbor in our small community.

Ignoring water quality problems for decades causes them to be more difficult and expensive to solve. Molalla’s ability to thrive and grow will depend on its willingness to finally meet these challenges head on. Bear Creek Recovery encourages everyone to help with our mission to honor, protect and enhance the fantastic water resources we share in this amazing place we all call home.