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City: DEQ proposal too strict, expensive

Despite opposition, DEQ likely will impose its new waterway pollution rules
by Jill Aho, Herald and News 6/9/10
     City of Klamath Falls officials say new pollution allocations for the Klamath River are unreasonable — and costly — but the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality still plans on imposing severe restrictions on what can be added to the Klamath River.

   A public comment period ended last month. The city submitted 19 pages of comments, said Public Works Director Mark Willrett.

   “We made a lot of references to the water quality of Upper Klamath Lake,” he said.

   The city estimates the proposed allocations for the wastewater treatment plant would cost between $40 million and $118 million, depending on whether the city can continue to release water into the Klamath River.  

   The South Suburban Sanitary District estimates the cost to upgrade its treatment plant will be between $63 million and $99 million.

   DEQ determined the Klamath River is out of compliance with the Clean Water Act and developed limitations for pollution sources that further degrade the water quality in the Klamath River.

   Since the river’s natural state is out of compliance, there are very few pollution loads left for allocation to other pollution sources.

   Upper Klamath Lake is the source of the majority of the pollution in the Klamath River.

   A Total Maximum Daily Load was created for Upper Klamath Lake prior to the new TMDL, and the load allocations are based on the targets for Upper Klamath Lake.
In its comments to DEQ, the city states the goals of the Upper Klamath Lake pollution targets are unrealistic. A TMDL sets pollution limits for bodies of water.

   “The planned phosphorus load reductions from Upper Klamath lake are extreme, unprecedented, and not likely to occur,” the city argued.  

   No difference

   The city also argued that compliance with the new allocations would not produce any measurable difference in the water quality of the Klamath River, and may harm the river by reducing the amount of diluting water and dissolved oxygen being added.

   DEQ Water Quality Manager Eric Nigg said   he wasn’t sure whether the agency had considered the ramifications if agriculture and wastewater treatment plants discontinued adding water   to the Klamath River.

   “I don’t think flows are sufficient enough to make a difference,” Nigg said.

   He said that doesn’t mean DEQ can dismiss them entirely. “We can’t call them insignificant though the flows are very small.”

   Nigg said even though no significant improvement in the water quality of Upper Klamath Lake is expected for a long time, changing the amount of pollutants added to the river by point sources like the city wastewater treatment plant will have an immediate impact.

   “I understand the issue of the lake taking a long time to meet the requirements of the TMDL. In the mean time, the permitted facilities and other facilities will be reducing pollutants as soon as possible,” Nigg said. “I understand the system is overwhelmed, but this can also drive some improvements in Upper Klamath Lake.”


Submitted comments

Ideas by the city of Klamath Falls in its comments to the Oregon DEQ on the new waste load allocations for pollution sources on the Klamath River include:

   Summer and winter allocations: This would allow the city to implement a land application plan during summer months and continue to discharge to the river during the winter months. The majority of the pollution problems occur in summer months, according to DEQ data.

   Reduce nutrient   loads upstream of Upper Klamath Lake: This would begin improving water quality of the Klamath River prior to implementing waste load allocations for pollution sources below the lake.

   Allow for water quality trading: This would include assisting in the implementation of management plans developed for the Upper Klamath Lake TMDL. The city suggests this also could include allocation trades with pollution sources in California.


Submitted comments reviewed by DEQ

A dozen agencies submitted lengthy comments to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality on new pollution allocations proposed for the upper Klamath River and Lost River subbasins.

   The public comment period for the Total Maximum Daily Load ended May 27, and DEQ officials will now examine the comments and respond to each, said DEQ Water Quality Manager Eric Nigg. Many shorter comments also were submitted during a public hearing in Klamath Falls and by e-mail, Nigg said.

   During the next two months, DEQ will address various concerns raised in the comments, Nigg said. Next it will use the   comments to refine the pollution allocations to management agencies named in the document.

   DEQ hopes to have a finalized document ready for review by the Environmental Protection Agency by fall, Nigg said.

   “I don’t think there’s anything in the comments that would put the brakes on the TMDL,” Nigg said.

   The EPA has never objected outright to pollution limits set by DEQ in the TMDL process before, Nigg said.

   The new pollution limits are incorporated into permits that allow entities such as the city of Klamath Falls wastewater plant to continue releasing treated effluent into the river.

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