Tag Archives: DEQ

The Public Needs Transparency in MSTP Reports

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:

  • For two years, City of Molalla would do additional weekly water testing at the following locations: (para.16)
    1. the Feyrer Park Bridge
    2. immediately upstream of the City’s Molalla River outfall
    3. at the downstream edge of the mixing zone, which is 50 feet downstream of the City’s Molalla River outfall
    4. the Highway 211 bridge
    5. the point where Fryer Park Road crosses the irrigation ditch
    6. and, at the point where the City’s effluent pipeline crosses the irrigation ditch.
  • When conducting these additional weekly water tests, City of Molalla would use grab samples to analyze for Biological Oxygen Demand (BODS), total suspended solids, ammonia, e-coli, temperature, and pH. (para.16)
  • For two years, City of Molalla would post data on its website. This would include both the weekly analysis results at the above six locations, and the monthly/quarterly MSTP monitoring reports filed with DEQ, in accordance with the NPDES Permit. (para.16)
  • City of Molalla would pay $6,324 in civil penalties (para.22)
  • City of Molalla would pay $50,000 in legal fees (para.24)
  • City of Molalla would pay $110,000 to fund a supplemental environmental project administered by Molalla Riverwatch (para.23)

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.

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]

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.

July 2013: Draft Recycled Water Use Plan for MSTP (41-pages)

As part of the process for renewing their permits, Molalla STP prepared a draft Recycled Water Use Plan (RWUP), dated July 18, 2013.

“The City irrigates the Coleman Ranch, Jorgensen property, and the wastewater plant, in the summer to make it until the next discharge cycle. We treat the irrigation water with the same process as the water discharged to the Molalla River.”

– text from pg.8 of this draft RWUP

The text within this draft RWUP specifically notes that the reason for irrigating is to “…make it until the next discharge cycle.” In other words, this is seen as a simple engineering problem: manage the accumulating wastewater until the date arrives, sometime in the fall, when it is again legal to discharge directly into the Molalla River. It is that simple.

To appease citizen concerns, they promote this irrigation as a ‘beneficial use’. Officials pretend there are no health issues associated with this treated wastewater, but given the history, can we really trust that this ‘treated wastewater’ has been adequately ‘cleaned’? Can we be confident that the wastewater being used to irrigate pastures for grazing cattle and other properties does not have hazardous (and persistent) elements such as synthetic pharmaceutical compounds? Is it possible that using this water to irrigate at Coleman Ranch and other locations is triggering other problems, such as blooms of E.coli contamination?

The key question is this: would it be safer and healthier, and would we thus be better off, if we stored the MSTP wastewater through the summer then discharged into the river during the rainy season? And, if so, do we have sufficient storage capacity at the MSTP lagoons to pursue this as a real option? Or, are the MSTP ponds too small, or too plugged with accumulated sludge that has not been regularly removed?

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.

Source: http://molallapioneer.blogspot.com/2007/07/deq-tests-soil-near-former-avison.html