BCR Public Meeting at 7PM, on January 21

Oregon red legged frog picBear Creek Recovery will host a meeting on January 21st , 7pm at the Molalla Library.

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.

Who is Potentially Impacted by the MSTP Wastewater Outfall Pipe in the Molalla River?

Coleman Ranch Impacts upon Molalla River

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.

A Bear Creek Photograph: Low Water, Early Fall

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.

Bear Creek, just E of Dryland Road, view upstream

If you have a Bear Creek photograph for us to post at this website, please attach it with an email to: Admin@bearcreekrecovery.org

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.

The E. coli Hazard in Molalla’s Creeks

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…


EscherichiaColi_NIAID (copy f WIKI)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.

19940000.. E.coli declared adulterant by USDA (slide from Bosilevac presentation)

(click on image to open PDF copy of the 60-page slide presentation)

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?

20140825.. CR ponding and irrigation along Mathias Rd

8/25/2014: Ponding & irrigation along Mathias Road. The sign warns: ‘avoid contact and do not drink the water’.

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:20140911cpy.. Vancouver Lake E.coli readings, limit 236 for swimming areaIn 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.

Creamery Creek backyard picGiven 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.


see also:

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, BearCreekRecovery.org, 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 BearCreekRecovery.org 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]

This Place known as Bear Creek

Bear Creek Headwaters

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.

The main part of Coleman Ranch, north of Feyrer Park Road, and bordered on the west side by Mathias Road and Highway 211.

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.

Where the Rains Flow

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.

This 1985 topo map shows the former Log Pond, due south of where the high school football field is today. The pond fed large logs to Avison’s Mill No.1.

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.

The largest mill complex in Molalla, and the area with the most documented chemical contamination (penta, furans, dioxins, etc.).

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.Avison Mill pictures, ~1960

A Legacy of Sawmill Contaminants

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….

And the Rain Flows On

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.

Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant
(west end of town, near Safeway)

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,**Today, officially, the outflow is piped to the Molalla River, though the old plumbing remains in place. At a public hearing in early 2014, some participants commented that in late summer, there is a noticeable difference in creek water levels upstream and downstream of the pipe, which is located at the entrance to the Molalla STP. 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.