Tuesday, March 10, 2009

EPA on Sewage Cleanup: Nevermind.

Cross posted at The Next Right

The EPA has let the City of Portland off the hook for cleaning up massive sewage spills. It dropped an investigation started eight years ago to pressure the city to do a better job cleaning up sewage spills. This saves Portland from spending big bucks for clean up costs.

Oregon’s senior senator, Ron Wyden (D), has been pushing the EPA to drop this for years.

“Over the years, the EPA's response to the good-faith efforts of the city and its ratepayers to spend $1.4 billion to solve the runoff problems and to control sewage overflows was to threaten lawsuits and refuse to meet with city officials,” Wyden continued. “While I'm glad the EPA has seen the error of its ways, this is a battle between federal and local government that should have never been waged.”

The investigation started when Oregon farmers complained that they were fined for small amounts of cow feces going into waterways, while the City of Portland was getting fined less for huge sewage spills.

The egregious nature of Portland's sewage spills was not mentioned by Senator Wyden nor by reporters for the Portland Tribune or the Oregonian.

In 2005 the Oregon State Department of Environmental Quality, under Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D), levied the biggest water quality fine in its history against Portland. The city was fined almost half a million dollars for major sewage spills including 1.1 million gallons of sewage in two spills dumped into the Willamette River and Fanno Creek. These huge sewage spills were in addition to massive ongoing sewage overflows which Portland gets a pass on because it is working on combined sewage overflow (CSO) construction.

DEQ officials noted that the Willamette River is already significantly polluted by wet-weather discharge of raw sewage from the city’s combined sewers. These combined sewer overflows (CSOs) are not subject to DEQ enforcement action, as outlined in an agreement between DEQ and the city to allow the city to complete timely construction of its updated CSO facilities.

Portland's sewage spill problem has been of major concern since the early 1990s. The City of Portland signed an agreement with the State of Oregon to care for the problem in 1991 with the solution to be in place by 2001. But huge spills continue. Portland is still working on the fix--the Big Pipe project. The city’s hope is that the Big Pipe project will be complete in another two years.

Currently Portland puts 2.3 billion gallons of raw sewage into local waterways each year--down from 6 billion gallons in 1991. Which is okay by the EPA--though cow feces are not.

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