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State issues final order on pollution limits


EPA has 30 days to approve or reject the order 


by Sara Hottman, Herald and News 12/22/10


     The state Tuesday issued a final order on pollution limits for Klamath and Lost rivers, keeping the reduced phosphorous levels Klamath Falls city officials say are impossible, or extremely expensive, to achieve.


   After a period of contentious meetings where city, county and irrigation district officials criticized the state for disregarding heavy cost burdens, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality officials simultaneously issued a 231-page total maximum daily load, or TMDL, order, the document that splits pollutant loads among municipalities, irrigators and other stakeholders, and a 124-page response to comments issued during the public comment period.


   The final order is essentially unchanged from the draft that parties so objected to and doesn’t include any of the suggestions the city of Klamath Falls offered to make the requirements more manageable. Current cost estimates for meeting pollution requirements range from $12 million to $200 million.


   Now the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which mandates pollution limits as part of the Clean Water Act, has 30 days to approve or reject the order, though approval is almost assured.  


   Stakeholders have 60 days to appeal.


   Mark Willrett, Klamath Falls public works director, said city officials will meet with the City Council to talk about options.


   “They hit us at a bad time when a lot of people are gone,” he said. “But we have to move relatively quickly.”  


   Willrett declined to say whether the city was considering a lawsuit, but said last month the city is still considering whether to “tackle this at another level.”


   Steve Kirk, Klamath Basin coordinator for DEQ, said the Willamette Basin successfully sued DEQ over its TMDL. The lawsuit ended in a settlement agreement.  


   TMDL requirements


   TMDLs are the Environmental Protection Agency’s method of regulating how much of a pollutant can be released into a water body in an effort to keep water clean despite pollution from municipalities, agriculture, and other sources.


   Upper Klamath Lake has had a TMDL since 2002 that is being implemented.


   For Klamath and Lost rivers, phosphorous, nitrogen, biological oxygen demand and temperature are all factors in the TMDL.


   The biggest problem for stakeholders is the phosphorous allocation; the order requires a 91 percent reduction from the current level.


   Stakeholders say because it naturally exists in Upper Klamath Lake (76 percent of the total load comes from the lake, compared to 3 percent from the city), it would be impossible to filter water to that degree, or if possible, would require millions of dollars in wastewater treatment technology.  


   The city already meets biological oxygen demand requirements and can meet nitrogen and temperature requirements with improvements to the wastewater treatment facility, Willrett said.


   Last year the city increased wastewater rates by 36 percent in order to raise enough money to borrow $26 million for necessary wastewater treatment facility improvements that will help the city meet part of the TMDL.


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