…the following is Susan Hansen’s Letter to the Editor, sent to the Molalla Pioneer…
Thank you, Molalla Pioneer, for printing this letter in the 1/28/2015 print edition.
…the following is Susan Hansen’s Letter to the Editor, sent to the Molalla Pioneer…
Thank you, Molalla Pioneer, for printing this letter in the 1/28/2015 print edition.
With transparency, citizens can know how well their public employees are serving. Thus, if the Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant (MSTP) is well run, transparency lets us know, so we can be confident and appreciative of a job well done. But, if the Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant is poorly run, transparency empowers citizens to put pressure on elected officials to correct problems, and restore needed efficiencies. Unfortunately, when it comes to sewage services, the leadership of Molalla has a history of impeding transparency.
As a case in point, consider how poorly MSTP handled transparency eight years ago, when they signed a Consent Decree. MSTP was required to post weekly data reports for the two-year duration of the Consent Decree. They failed. Only a few of the weekly reports and some of the monthly reports were posted. Years later, the website was changed making it difficult to find the report copies. (click here to view all reports as copied on 1/25/2015)
Anyway, here’s the background on transparency failures with the Consent Decree of 2006…
In late May 2006, multiple groups and individuals filed a civil action against the City of Molalla charging violations in waste handling at the Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant. Roughly eight months later, a settlement was reached between the parties, in the form of a Consent Decree. The key terms of this Consent Decree, which remained in effect for two years, included:
And how well did the City of Molalla do? Well, some of the monthly reports were posted online, and some of the additional weekly water test results were posted, too. So, during some times of the two year Consent Decree, citizens were able to see the data. But the data was spotty. And, unfortunately, once the two year requirement of the Consent Decree was done, Molalla quit posting their monthly reports.
At 7:00pm on Wednesday, January 28th, the Molalla City Council and the Molalla Urban Renewal Agency (MURA) will conduct Regular and Executive Meetings. The public is invited to attend the Regular Meeting sessions, which will be held at the Adult Center.
In preparation, the City of Molalla posted two large PDF documents, which can be viewed/downloaded via these links:
Bear Creek Recovery reviewed the documents. Three items were found that relate to the BCR mission: a scope/budget approval for contract work related to NPDES, spending approval of seven flow meters to monitor sewer I&I, and proposed tax abatement for Pacific Fibre Products, Inc. Two of these items were already approved; the third item is proposed. Details and links are provided below:
In late 1999, an agreement was signed between Coleman Ranch and the City of Molalla. The agreement called for Molalla to pipe their recycled sewage treatment plant wastewater, to be used during half of the year as irrigation for pasture at the ranch. The pipe used to deliver this water was later extended, creating a new Molalla sewage treatment plant (MSTP) wastewater outfall. Thus, while all MSTP wastewater was pumped into Bear Creek prior to 2006, once the new outfall was finished, the wastewater was pumped into the Molalla River. The northbound river flow is indicated by the blue arrow in the image above.
How does this impact local citizens? Well, during hot summer days, locals commonly swim in the Molalla River, just upstream from the Highway 211 bridge (see above aerial view, at “1”). People park near the 211 bridge and hike in, using trails on both the east side and west side of the river. Another popular site, for those willing to hike further, is at “2” above, where there is a rope swing over a pool. Both of these swimming sites are downstream from the MSTP outfall pipe, which is at the orange square (see “3” above).
MSTP is not allowed to discharge during the summer months. However, the same outlet pipe is used to supply treated sewage water to Coleman Ranch, for summer irrigation of cattle pastures. So, water quality for swimmers depends on the effectiveness of the valves on the MSTP discharge line. Also, over the years, MSTP has had repeated events where the ponds are too full and, due to heavy rain, MSTP has needed to open the valves and discharge into the river. Oregon DEQ is helpless to deny their requests, as MSTP cannot let the ponds overflow into the Bear Creek drainage. Consequently, it is conceivable that some may swim in the Molalla River in late Spring or early Fall, unaware that the water includes wastewater discharged by MSTP.
This Post is NOT about stirring panic, but offered instead to make sure that people are informed about a real hazard in the Molalla area. E. coli is serious, and people need to be informed…
Escherischia coli is a rod-shaped bacterium commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms such as humans and cattle. There are many different strains and most are harmless, but a few strains have caused foodborne illness. E. coli O157:H7 causes abdominal cramping, vomiting and a diarrheal illness, often with bloody stools. Most healthy adults can recover completely within a week. Young children and the elderly are at highest risk for developing HUS, which can lead to serious kidney damage and even death. A Shiga toxin may be produced by some strains; it causes ulcers in the colon, and when these ulcers bleed, they commonly produce bloody diarrhea.
When found in mass-produced food items, E. coli can result in enormous food safety recalls. The last large U.S. recall was in May 2014, when eleven people in four states were sickened by E. coli O157:H7 infections, and a Detroit meat packing company recalled 1.8 million pounds of ground beef. Today, in Alberta, at least 157 E. coli illnesses have been confirmed, caused by tainted pork in wontons, spring rolls and other frozen Asian food products.
In 2011, nearly 4,000 people became ill, mostly in Germany, from eating bean sprouts that were tainted with the O104:H4 strain; more than 50 died. In the fall of 2006, 199 people in multiple U.S. states came down with illness after eating packaged spinach tainted with E. coli O157:H7, and three died. In spring 2009, 72 people nationwide became ill from prepackaged Nestle Toll House cookie dough; they had snacked on the raw product (don’t we all, when making cookies?), and the rash of hospital visits prompted a product recall.
Many of us remember the original story that made E. coli big news, in January 1993, when a 2-yr-old boy became the first fatality among more than a hundred victims of food poisoning, caused by tainted hamburger served at Seattle-area Jack-in-the-Box fast food restaurants.
Some of the most costly product recalls related to E. coli have been for ground beef. In a 60-slide presentation published in 2006 (approx.), USDA-ARS scientist Mick Bosilevac concluded that a leading cause of E. coli contamination was at the ‘kill floor’, when the hides of cattle were not properly cleaned. If enough of the bacteria passes into the final ground beef product, the hamburger is no longer safe to sell raw; it must be destroyed, or converted to a cooked hamburger final product.
During the summer now ending, Molalla has piped millions of gallons of wastewater from the sewage treatment plant west of Safeway to Coleman Ranch, on the east end of town. It has been used to irrigate hundreds of acres of pasture. This pasture is at the headwaters area for both Bear Creek and Creamery Creek. When the soils become saturated and the water ponds, the excess flows into the creeks, then downstream through Molalla neighborhoods.
E. coli contamination typically occurs in relation to the feces of cattle, humans, and other mammals. So, there would appear to be a substantially high probability that Molalla STP wastewater irrigated in excess onto ranchland could elevate E. coli in our local creeks.
Twice this year, agricultural officials from the State of Oregon have sampled waters in the ditch area near the United Methodist Church. Both times they found substantially elevated E. coli levels. The waters in this ditch become Creamery Creek, which flows northwest through the residential areas between the High School and the downtown area.
DEQ and City officials have been made aware of these elevated E. coli readings in Creamery Creek watershed, but it is not clear if any officials have done any sampling of the creek, or if they have warned any residents about this potential health hazard. In the meantime, heavy pasture irrigation continues, using Molalla STP wastewater, and this heavy irrigation is likely helping to maintain (or even raise) the elevated E. coli levels.
We depend on our government officials to take the lead in protecting all citizens. Just two months ago, swimming at Vancouver Lake was closed by Vancouver officials, due to high E. coli levels. They handled it correctly, for Public safety: they measured the hazard frequently, and they posted the data online:In Molalla, irrigation using Molalla STP wastewater is allowed by a permit process involving DEQ oversight. There is also a need to monitor the results of this permitted wastewater application, just as there is a need to timely communicate with the citizens if and when a potential health hazard arises.
Given the known dangers of E. coli, and given the readings collected by Ag officials twice this year (which were far higher than the Vancouver Lake readings between 308 and 1,203 on July 8th), it would appear that DEQ and City officials may be failing their duties to serve Molalla residents near Creamery Creek.
A creek in a backyard should be a thing of joy and wonder, an opportunity for exploration and learning for a curious child. A healthy addition to our home and community. Molalla is blessed with such creeks. We need to take care of them.
…the following is Jeff Lewis’ Letter to the Editor, sent to the Molalla Pioneer…
Thank you, Molalla Pioneer, for printing this letter at page 4 in the 8/27/2014 print edition. [link to jpeg]
…here is a copy of the 8/20/14 article, printed in the Molalla Pioneer……click here to view a response Letter to the Editor…
The headwaters for Bear Creek are in pastureland atop a slight ridge southeast of Molalla. The rain splits along this rise, with some flowing west into Bear Creek, while on the other side it flows east, into the Molalla River. The soils are heavy with clay. Trees grow very well; after all, this is Oregon and the Willamette Valley. Most locals know this place as Coleman Ranch and, as ranchland, it is open and fenced — and generally treeless.
There was a time when these pastures were covered with trees, and the trees fed a veritable gold rush. Sawmills popped up overnight, and local men worked in teams with horses and primitive steam-powered engines. Some men lived long seasons in logging camps, pulling bucksaws and swinging axes; others were able to raise their families in town — some men hauled the logs, while other men lost their hearing and a few fingers toiling near the spinning blades that fed the banks.
Mill owners were god-like. They owned everything in town, so the money they paid out to their crews came right back to their stores. Or, in the case of Molalla, where mill owners also owned the saloons, much of the money was tossed back across the bar.
The trees fell, and a new economy arose. All sorts of farming came, and went. The soils, in places like Coleman Ranch, turned out to be just too sopping wet through too much of the year, and in the long dry months of summer the clays hardened and cracked. Past forests had buffered these harsh seasonal extremes but, once the trees were gone and the crops had proven too unreliable, that squinty eye for money said the final best use was to grow hay and raise livestock. And so it came to be that today, the highest headwaters of a lost ‘Bear Creek’ are flattened and filled and trodden … a place for cattle, and a place for irrigation cannons shooting summer sewage wastewater. And the locals, when they go to and from Feyrer park and the Molalla gorge to swim and to fish … they all pass through this place called Coleman Ranch.
The heat of August draws many to swim in the Molalla River, but come September the nights begin to cool and the apples ripen, and while locals stack wood and hunt and watch their kids kick soccer balls, the Oregon rains set in.
And they stay, reliably, until June, sometimes even into July. Three feet of rain (or thereabouts) falls on the headwaters area of Bear Creek. It soaks in at first, but when the soils become water-logged, the rain pools and soon starts to flow. Stream cuts become common on the west side of Mathias Road.
The heart of downtown Molalla is a plodding four-way stop sign, where Highway 211 crosses east-west through the north-south Molalla Ave.
Just a few blocks south is the library, and a few blocks further, at the south edge of the city blocks, Bear Creek crosses through. Sometimes, when the rain falls too heavily and the soils have no capacity to absorb, this area floods and becomes a small lake.
At the lowest stretch and to the west side of Molalla Ave is a broad area of flat asphalt and vacant industrial sheds. This area is where a bunch of mills once popped up in and around Bear Creek. Old photographs show that there were at least three wigwam burners in the area, for burning off the excess wood scrap. There had been numerous mill owners, but Avison eventually dominated. A few years ago, this site took on a new name: ‘Floragon’, a subsidiary of Interfor.
Avison still owns their other large mill site, south of the high school football field. The land was cleared and the old log pond filled in years ago. Formerly known as Avison Mill No.1, it is now a large vacant area, fenced off and waiting. It has been on the market for years, but still no industrial development.
Both the Floragon and Avison sites have contaminant issues. For decades, pentachlorophenol (PCP) was liberally applied to raw lumber as a preservative. The cut lumber was stacked, then fork-lifted around the yard, dipped into open dip tanks, and repositioned to drip-dry locations. In the process (and, owing to those seasonal Bear Creek floods), quantities of PCP became attached to soil particles and worked their way into the Bear Creek stream sediments. Worse, because the method of producing PCP’s was crude, the purity was quite low, with 10-16% other chlorinated compounds, including the very hazardous furans and dioxins. All of these chemicals are, like DDT, not just toxic but also quite persistent. As a rule of thumb, the assortment of chlorinated organic compounds synthesized by humans have almost always yielded short-term benefits but enormous long-term health hazards. The U.S. EPA (and similar agencies in other countries) eventually banned PCP use by the general public in the late 1980’s.
Molalla (and Bear Creek) are not at all unique with this problem. It turns out that there are PCP contamination issues at dozens — perhaps most — of the lumber mills in all three West Coast states. The health issues have been accepted for more than three decades, yet the contamination is still not cleaned up. Through all the ongoing delay, the goal that has emerged is to ensure people — especially growing children — do not come into contact with these chlorinated compounds. There are two predominant strategies: you either remove the contaminant, or you bury it out of reach. Removal involves thousands of truckloads hauling contaminated soil to large landfill sites, plus hauling in just as many truckloads of acceptably clean soil. On-site burial involves moving dirt around — carve out a hole, then batch all the contaminated soil into that hole, and then hide it under a paved surface or large foundation. On-site burial is far less expensive, and thus widely preferred by the former-mill owners who want to just cash out on the land they own. Consequently, pressure is brought to bear on DEQ and city/county officials to develop many of these contamination sites industrially, as ‘brownfields’. Effectively, these lands are considered not suitable for residential habitation … though nobody wants to talk about that.
And what does this mean for Bear Creek? Today, as has been the case for decades now, we have hundreds of acres of post-industrial blight around a contaminated creek, where we might have had a vibrant stream with healthy natural areas, surrounded by parks and compatibly constructed neighborhoods. On top of that, we continue to see city and county efforts to produce industrial development of these lands, and an endless parade of funding for industrial bypass roads and other wasteful schemes. Like water, the money flows until it dries up….
So, what happens to the three feet (+/-) of rain that falls at Coleman Ranch each Oregon rainy season? Some slowly seeps in to recharge the groundwater. The rest of it puddles, then funnels toward the streambed and to the west, eventually to the rivers.
Below the mill sites at Molalla Ave, Bear Creek turns to the northwest and parallels the old Molalla Forest Road — which happens to be a very pleasant hike, run or ride. The creek then crosses Highway 211, just east of the Safeway, and flows under Highway 213 near the massive residential subdivisions that have been built up in recent years.
Just west of Highway 213, Bear Creek passes the Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant. The two large septic ponds discharge through a large pipe on the north end. Originally, that pipe opened straight into Bear Creek,* but in 2006 Molalla STP began discharging into the Molalla River. From there it flows through Canby to the Willamette, over the falls at Oregon City, through Portland, then down the Columbia and on to the Pacific. At all places downstream, whatever Molalla STP fails to remove — the sawmill contaminants, the pharmaceuticals, and everything else — place other people and other creatures at risk.
Water quality matters … which is why we need to take care of Bear Creek.
The letter is by Tiffany Yelton-Bram, who is Manager of the Water Quality Source Control Section at the DEQ office in Portland. It sets a deadline of 7/22/2014 for Molalla to produce the requested answers and records.
The closing paragraph includes three ‘recommendations’ that DEQ would like to see Molalla do:
Here is a link to the PDF: