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One Size Fits... None?
I think this is a symptom of a larger problem with "one size fits all." I am the mayor of a small eastern Oregon town and we are suffering with ODEQ effluent regulations. We discharge a minuscule amount of restricted waste from out waste disposal facility compared with Portland or even Pendleton, but since ODEQ regulations deal in percentages we have to upgrade our facility. Our town includes a substantial number of low and fixed income persons. To qualify for state fund assistance we have to double our sewer rates. It doesn't make sense to me. I think it would be more equitable if consideration was given to the amount of effluent. I also think that many of the regulations coming out of Salem do not consider the effects they will have on smaller communities, particularly in Eastern Oregon.
The comment is from Richard Winter, and that "small eastern Oregon town" is Echo, population 700. I followed up with Mayor Winter to learn more about Echo's situation, and he put me in touch with Diane Berry, the city administrator.
We talked for a while today, and I won't go into all the details, but here are the basics: Echo has a lagoon system, and eventually releases its treated water into the Umatilla River. Berry says they're frustrated with a whole set of environmental restrictions, including the amount of waste water they can release (not enough, they say), the temperature of the water (no higher than that of the river itself, which they say is too low), and even where they can release the water: DEQ argues that there's a bull trout spawning ground at the release point; Berry says that it's been there for 30 years, and therefore the fish are doing fine.
And there's a hefty price tag for compliance: in the neighborhood of $2.3 to $2.6 million. Just to put this in perspective, if the per capita cost remained the same this would mean something like $2 billion in Portland.
Echo is currently trying to get grants (from HUD and the USDA) and a loan to pay for the project. In the meantime, they're mired in a bureaucratic hell that's been going on for a few years. Hence the frustration of Mayor Winter's comment.
But for all the talk — even hinted at in mayor Winter's comment — of an urban-rural divide, it's interesting to note there is something that Portland and Echo can agree on: neither city is happy with its respective regulations.
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