Tag Archives: MolallaRiver

What Kinds of Frogs & Amphibians do You Have in Your Local Pond or Wetland?

20150211scp Have You Seen This Frog, MolallaPioneer article by Peggy SavageIn a project coordinated by Molalla River Watch and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), volunteers are surveying amphibian egg mass surveys in Clackamas County. So, if you have a pond or wetlands on your property, or know of a place and want to find out what lives there, help the experts know where to look.

You may even have Western Pond Turtles. Yet another reason to protect our streams, and manage our wastewater.

Details and contacts in this Molalla Pioneer article by Peggy Savage. See also this Press Release from Molalla River Watch, Inc.

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.

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.

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?

March 2009: MSTP ends Online Posting of Pollution Sample Reports

Here is a copy of a webpage portion, with links to the reports, as screen-captured on 1/25/2015. It is also viewable at: http://www.cityofmolalla.com/publicworks/page/pollution-sample-report20150125scp.. Molalla Wastewater Division webpage, 'Pollution Sample Report'
And, here is the full set of reports, from September 2008 into mid-March 2009, compiled into one PDF:

20080905scp.. Sep-2008(wk1) portion of weekly grab sample compilation

(click on image to view/download compiled PDF reports)

April 2007: Signed Consent Decree resolving Molalla Irrigation v. City of Molalla

The image below is page one of the 19-page Final Consent Decree, in which City of Molalla paid fines and agreed to comply with specific monitoring requirements. The city also agreed to be transparent with data for a two year period, by regularly posting data online. Click on this [LINK] to open or download a PDF copy of the complete document….
20070411.. Consent Decree settling Molalla Irrigation et al v. CIty of Molalla (pg.1 pic)