Wednesday June 19, 2013
Willamette River Among America's Most EndangeredSalem-News.com
The river is #3 on American Rivers' annual list released Wednesday.
(PORTLAND) - A loophole in state regulations that allows "toxic mixing zones" gives the green light to factories and cities to dump millions of pounds of pollution into Oregon`s Willamette River, which American Rivers named Wednesday as America`s #3 most endangered river for 2006.
The annual America`s Most Endangered Rivers report highlights ten rivers facing a major turning pointing the coming year, where action by citizens can make a huge difference for both community well-being and river health.
Home to more than 70% of the state`s population, the Willamette River Valley is the heart and lifeblood of western Oregon, but a loophole in state regulations allows companies to exceed state standards for pollutants in short stretches of the river in "toxic mixing zones." These zones are not marked to keep out swimmers, anglers, or boaters, and the state does not even have a good record of where these toxic mixing zones occur or how many there are, according to the report.
American Rivers and its partner groups on the Willamette, the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group and the Sierra Club, called on Governor Kulongoski to make good on his promise to clean up the Willamette and end the use of toxic mixing zones on the river.
"Toxic mixing zone is just another term for dumping your responsibilities on your downstream neighbors, and hoping they won`t notice," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.
"Most Oregonians look at the Willamette River and see a beloved place for fishing, boating, swimming, or just reflecting, but a handful of companies see it as an open sewer to dump pollution. Which river does the governor see?"
Continued dumping of toxic levels of pollution in the Willamette River threatens a whole host of economic activities dependent on a clean, healthy river. Over two million Oregonians live within 20 miles of the Willamette, and the river is heavily used by the public for recreation.
"We`ve got industries discharging mercury into the Willamette at 8 to 10 times above the state water quality standards," said OSPIRG`s Rhett Lawrence, "when we`ve got too much mercury in the river already so much so that the entire mainstem is under a fishing advisory where is the sense in that?"
Cities such as Eugene, Portland, and Salem embrace a healthy Willamette River as a valuable amenity and economic asset, and are investing in developing waterfront parks and marinas, while restoring fish and wildlife habitat. Yet, swimmers and anglers do not know if they are swimming or fishing in polluted mixing zones, because the toxic areas are not even identified with warning signs.
"It is simply disingenuous to talk about a healthy Willamette River without addressing toxic mixing zones," said Paul Shively, regional representative for the Sierra Club. "The Governor and the Department of Environmental Quality must take a leadership role in this discussion if they expect industry and municipalities to look at solutions to this embarrassing blemish in our beautiful State of Oregon."
During the last legislative session, the Oregon Legislature considered Senate Bill 555, the Water Quality Protection Act, introduced to rein in the use of toxic mixing zones. Unfortunately, lobbying by polluters defeated the bill.
The organizations today renewed their call on Governor Kulongoski to uphold his promise to clean up industrial pollutants in the Willamette River and direct the Department of Environmental Quality to phase out the use of toxic mixing zones in Oregon.
If the governor does not act, the groups expect the 2007 Oregon Legislature to revisit the issue of toxic dumping in the Willamette River when water quality protection legislation is reintroduced.
Any future bill is likely to require the DEQ to inform the public of the location and pollution levels within toxic mixing zones and develop a plan to phase out this dumping.
About America`s Most Endangered Rivers
Each year, American Rivers solicits nominations from thousands of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs, local governments, and taxpayer watchdogs for the America`s Most Endangered Rivers report.
The report highlights the rivers facing the most uncertain futures rather than those suffering from the worst chronic problems. The report presents alternatives to proposals that would damage rivers, identifies those who make the crucial decisions, and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.
This year`s report details how nearly a century of federal flood damage reduction efforts poured tons of concrete and billions of dollars into massive engineering projects that too often destroy natural flood protection and lure communities into harm`s way.
The rivers named in this year`s America`s Most Endangered Rivers report are: Pajaro River (Calif.), Upper Yellowstone River (Mont.), Willamette River (Ore.), Salmon Trout River (Mich.), Shenandoah River (Va. & W. Va.), Boise River (Idaho), Caloosahatchee River (Fla.), Bristol Bay (Alaska), San Jacinto River (Tex.), Verde River (Ariz.).
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