Category Archives: News

Molalla Waste Water: Links to City of Molalla Documents

The  City of Molalla posts all wastewater management documents at the following site, including work to improve I&I, monthly reports, notices of violations and permits. Visit the site to discover what Molalla is doing to comply with the Clean Water Act:

I&I report:

E. coli Risk Reported Downstream of the Silverton Sewage Treatment Plant

…this news story indicates that the risk of E. coli is becoming common in many places in Oregon, not just in Creamery Creek…

20140916.. Silverton map showing E.coli impact area downstream from STPAnother Oregon incidence of elevated E.coli readings, this time just west of Silverton. The readings were in Silver Creek,  which flows from east to west.

Here is a copy of a Statesman Journal article by Joce DeWitt:

High levels of E. coli discovered near Silverton wastewater treatment plant

Silverton city officials advised people to avoid contact with a portion of Silver Creek due to a high concentration of E. Coli discovered downstream from a wastewater treatment plant.

Fishing and swimming in the creek should be avoided until bacteria levels return to normal, the city said in a press release.

The presence of E. coli bacteria indicates that the water may be contaminated with human or animal waste. Contact with the waste could cause symptoms like diarrhea, cramps, nausea and headaches. It could be particularly risky for infants, children and some elderly people, as well as those with compromised immune symptoms.

The wastewater treatment plant is at 400 Schemmel Lane to the south of Silverton High School’s Pine Street campus.

Swimming areas north of the treatment plant are not affected.

August 2014: A ‘Letter to Editor’ to Molalla Pioneer, regarding Biosolids

…the following is Jeff Lewis’ Letter to the Editor, sent to the Molalla Pioneer…

As a local citizen in the Molalla area, I appreciate that our local newspaper covers important government decisions that can impact health and quality of life. One example is the recent Pioneer coverage on 8/20/2014, ‘Council Accepts New Biosolids Plan’.

The article accurately notes that the Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant (the large ponds just west of Les Schwab) generates lots of waste byproducts, all of which must eventually be removed. What concerns me though is that the article implies lots of rules are being followed and that applying this sludge onto cropland is all positive, but the article fails to identify the negatives. Nor does the article mention a better and safer solution: this sludge needs to be sent to a landfill, not disposed onto cropland.

I am working with a few other concerned citizens who are trying to help Molalla officials improve Molalla, especially around the resource we know as Bear Creek. Our nonprofit group has created a website,, where we are posting information and inviting community discussion. One of our key areas of concern is what the Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant (MSTP) does with their waste byproducts: the wastewater and sludge.

Fifty years ago, most U.S. cities disposed of sewage waste by piping it into rivers and barging it out for ocean dumping. The Clean Water Act put an end to that. A few years later, EPA began a positive ‘spin’ program, to convince the public that sewage treatment byproducts do not have to be fully cleaned and can be ‘beneficial’ if disposed onto farmland.

How dangerous is this stuff? Just go online and Google ‘biosolids Georgia dairy lawsuit’. There are hundreds of news articles, congressional testimonies and more about one of the worst biosolid stories: more than 200 cows killed by accumulation of biosolid toxins that eventually destroyed two dairies. Or, please see the collection of links at the website.

It is good that Mayor Rogge, the City Council and Mr. Huff are looking at this issue, deliberating in public sessions, and explaining their decision to the press. This is transparency, which we need to happen. But, we are all aware of the power of ‘spin’ to distort public perception. A public manipulated to see only the good while ignoring the bad is a public poorly served by officials. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I hope that Molalla officials will soon clarify:

  • of the “750,000 gallons of sludge” declared in the article, how much of that is water, and how much of that is actual solids dredged from the MSTP ponds?
  • what percentage of total accumulated biosolids do we expect to see removed under this new contract transporting “750,000 gallons of sludge” to the Macksburg farmland?
  • what testing is MSTP doing on this “750,000 gallons of sludge” to assess the presence and concentration of such toxic elements as heavy metals, persistent synthetic pharmaceuticals, dioxins, etc. …the same biosolids toxins that have damaged and even destroyed farmlands elsewhere in the United States?

Thank you, Molalla Pioneer, for printing this letter at page 4 in the 8/27/2014 print edition. [link to jpeg]

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.

June 2013: A News Article about ‘Shorty’s Pond’

A good place to explore the upper reaches of Bear Creek is at City of Molalla’s Ivor Davies Nature Park. It’s basically a large flat area with a high water table, with a few trails and some added plants. Nothing awe-inspiring, but nonetheless a good place to get outside and walk the dog or take a jog or stroll.

(click on image to view area at Google maps)

(click on image to view area at Google maps)

Perhaps the most prominent feature of this park is a large and somewhat muddy feature that dries up in the hottest summers, called ‘Shorty’s Pond’ (orange circle, above). Here is a copy of a news article done by Henry Miller at the Statesman Journal:20130605.. Shorty's Pond article, by H.Miller at StatesmanJournal, p120130605.. Shorty's Pond article, by H.Miller at StatesmanJournal, p2

See also:

March 2010: MSTP Reports Break-In, Computer Tossed into Sewage Pond

A 3/25/2010 news article by Rick Bella at reports a ‘burglary’ and vandalism at the Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant. Here are the first few lines:

Police are looking for burglars who broke into the city’s water-treatment plant and stole the system’s computer.

City Administrator John Atkins said theft of the computer is a federal crime and has been reported to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He said the computer, later found destroyed, contained all the programming that kept the water-treatment plant working on autopilot.

Water quality is unaffected, Atkins said. The only difference is the plant is running in manual-control mode and must be monitored in-person. …

September 2008: McElmurray’s Senate Testimony About Biosolid Contamination at Two Dairies in Georgia

Briefing on “Oversight on the State of Science and Potential Issues Associated
with EPA’s Sewage Sludge Program”
September 11, 2008


R. A. McElmurray & Sons, Inc.
2010 Brown Road
Hephzibah, Georgia 30815

Chairman Boxer, Ranking Member Inhofe and Honorable Members of the Committee, thank you for the privilege of testifying today about the destruction of our dairy farm business by hazardous wastes in sewage sludge, which was land-applied by the City of Augusta, Georgia.

Cattle Deaths, Milk Contamination

My name is Andy McElmurray, and with me today is my attorney, Ed Hallman of Decker, Hallman, Barber & Briggs in Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Hallman has led a team of attorneys and experts for the last 10 years in an effort to recover compensation for the destruction of my family’s dairy farm business, which resulted from hazardous wastes in Augusta, Georgia’s sewage sludge. My testimony addresses the history of sewage sludge applications to my family’s farmlands. The City of Augusta invited us to participate in its land application program and assured us that the sewage sludge was safe for growing forage crops to feed to our dairy cattle.

We began receiving sewage sludge applications in 1979 and continued until 1990. On our farm, we grew forage crops to feed to our dairy cattle, and we grew row crops as well. In 1998, after hundreds of head of cattle sickened and died, we learned that Augusta’s sewage sludge contained extremely high levels of hazardous wastes that were toxic to diary cattle.

Another prize-winning dairy farm in the area owned by the family of Bill Boyce was hit even harder, and the owners had to abandon the dairy farm business altogether. Our families, who have farmed our land for three generations, have lost tens of millions of dollars in property value, lost property and agricultural products.

For over two decades, the City of Augusta, Georgia failed to enforce federal and state regulations requiring local industries to treat hazardous wastes before discharging them into the City’s sewers. The City also fudged, fabricated and invented data required under the Clean Water Act to make its sewage sludge appear to qualify as “Class B biosolids.” The bogus fertilizer ended up sickening and killing hundreds of dairy cows on the two dairy farms.

Milk samples collected from one of our farms still using forage grown on lands which received sewage sludge contained high levels of heavy metals and other sludge contaminants. Additional samples of milk pulled from shelves in grocery stores in Georgia and surrounding states also contained some of the same heavy metals at levels exceeding EPA’s safe drinking water standards. Unsafe levels of heavy metals in various samples included thallium, a rat poison toxic to humans in very small doses. Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Alaimo rejected Augusta’s fabricated data and ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture must compensate me and my family for crops that could not be planted, because thousands of acres of land were too contaminated with hazardous chemical wastes from Augusta’s sewage sludge. Our dairy, which was once one of Georgia’s most productive dairy farms, was destroyed by the heavy metals, PCBs, chlordane, and other hazardous wastes that local industries dumped into Augusta’s sewer system.

(Click on page two to read further testimony, including ‘How it Happened’, ‘The Gatekeepers’, ‘The Mehan Letter’, ‘How Widespread are the Problems’, and ‘Conclusion’.)

July 2007: DEQ tests soil near former Avison lumber mill

This article concerns the Avison mill site, south of 5th Street and across from the High School football field and track.

News article, published by Pioneer Staff on Tuesday, July 17, 2007 at 4:05 PM.

By Abby Sewell, Molalla Pioneer

After finding dioxins — toxic chemical compounds — buried in the soil of the former Avison lumber mill site in Molalla, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has asked Avison Rock Quarry to sample the soil of nearby properties in search of contamination. Dealing with the soil contamination is the last hurdle facing Avison before 25 acres of the site can be certified as shovel-ready industrial land by the State of Oregon.

Dan Hafley, project manager with the Oregon DEQ’s voluntary cleanup program, said the levels of dioxins found in the soil on the north end of the site were low, less than one particle per billion.

“We don’t want people to be unduly concerned, because we’re not unduly concerned,” he said. “But as a precaution, we have asked the property owner to take samples from nearby residential properties.”

After conducting the sampling at eight neighboring residential properties tomorrow, the results are expected to come back in three or four weeks. At that point, the DEQ will decide whether contamination from the Avison site is posing a risk to human health.

Long-term exposure to dioxins has been shown to cause cancer in animals and scientists suspect the same is true of humans.

The toxic particles in the soil at the old mill site are residue from dip tanks filled with pentachlorophenol, an anti-mold agent used to treat wood in the 1980s, Hafley said. The mill closed in the early 1990s, and has since remained undeveloped except for the northwest corner, leased by the Molalla Redi-Mix concrete plant.

Avison Rock Quarry owner Bill Avison said details of the site cleanup plan are still being finalized.

“We’ve been working cooperatively with the DEQ to get (the site) to this point, and I think everyone wants to see it completed,” he said.

The cleanup could be as simple as shoveling out the offending turf and hauling it away or could entail removing some and capping the rest with cement or another sealant. Hafley said the dioxins on site are not thought to pose a threat to neighboring groundwater.

“We’ve assessed the groundwater and we have some very localized impacts, but they don’t expand off site,” he said.

While contamination has also been found on the south side of the 54-acre property, in ditches that extend toward Bear Creek, Hafley said the DEQ’s main focus is on the 25 acres in the northern portion of the site, where a certification as shovel-ready industrial land could bring new economic development to the area.

“The potential for development is very important to us,” he said.

Jamie Johnk, Clackamas County’s rural economic development coordinator, said the site will likely receive its certification in September.

“Once you’re done with the certification, it guarantees potential property owners that they can break ground on the site within 180 days,” she said.

Once the soil testing results return, and a final cleanup plan is presented, the DEQ will accept public comment before approving the plan.

Avison is funding the environmental study, cleanup, and regulator oversight costs at the site. Some funding for the investigation came through a Clackamas County EPA Brownfield Grant and development funds from the Oregon Economic Community Development Department.