Welcome to the BCR website!
Bear Creek starts in the highlands southeast of Molalla, and flows through the south side of Molalla, to Rock Creek and the Pudding River south of Aurora.
Sadly, this creek has been neglected, contaminated, and all but killed. The maps, data, documents and other records compiled on this website are provided to inform the Public, to help us all work together for a healthy Bear Creek and a vibrant community.
To learn more, please explore this public service website. Check out the information posted in the FrogBlog. Use the search function to locate PDF copies and documents (for viewing, or to download) related to Bear Creek issues. See also the links in the Menu Bar at the top of this page.
And please let us know what other information you feel needs to be researched and shared.
The main feature will be a discussion of agricultural water rights and agricultural water practices, by representatives from the Oregon Water Master and Clackamas County Soil and Water.
Everyone is welcome to attend to have their questions about water use answered by experts. Visit Bear Creek Recovery.org or call 503-789-7179 for more information.
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.
Less than ten years ago, the wastewater produced in Molalla was pumped straight into Bear Creek, near Highway 213. It then flowed west past Dryland Road, Highway 170, Barlow Road and eventually joined the Pudding River south of Aurora. Nobody knows what toxins and other hazards were deposited in Bear Creek during the sewage decades. Here is a picture from downstream, in one area where Nature appears to be doing well. This picture is looking east, just upstream from Dryland Road.
…this news story indicates that the risk of E. coli is becoming common in many places in Oregon, not just in Creamery Creek…
Here is a copy of a Statesman Journal article by Joce DeWitt:
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.
How dangerous are some of the E. coli strains?
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.
What does this have to do with the creeks in Molalla?
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.
- Oregon Girl, 4, Dies From Complications Linked to E. Coli — (9/10/2014)
- Applebee’s E. coli Outbreak Source Was Likely Cabbage, Officials Say — (8/29/2014)
- Multistate Outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O121 Infections Linked to Raw Clover Sprouts — (8/1/2014)
- E. Coli count closes Vancouver Lake to swimmers — (7/10/2014)
- Multistate Outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 Infections Linked to Ground Beef — (6/20/2014)
…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…