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Time to support DEQ looking beyond end-of-pipe solutions for the Willamette River

This is a response to an Article in the Oregonian on September 16, 2008 regarding the habitat of cool-water fish in the Willamette.

September 18, 2008
By David Primozich
Executive Director of the Willamette Partnership

The article “Researchers track cool-water habits of Willamette fish” that appeared on September 17, 2008 touched on the challenge of reconciling the things we as Oregonian’s regulate for our environment, with the things that our environment actually needs. 

The native fish that help to define our region need the right habitat, in the right places, at the right times of year. However, existing regulations are fragmented, implemented in a piece-meal manner, and were designed to only address small pieces of the impacted ecosystem.

Landmark Federal environmental laws, that still form the basis of the current regulatory framework, successfully curtailed some of the most egregious and visible environmental damage perpetuated in the 60’s and 70’s—from burning rivers in Ohio to vanishing species across the nation.

The time has long-since passed when simply limiting impact to the environment was a reasonable policy. Pipe-by-pipe, site-by-site, and species-by-species approaches to environmental regulation, while still beneficial, are reactive.  They emerge only after a problem is discovered and usually focus narrowly on a single pollutant rather than the comprehensive solution needed.  As a result, the basic problems remain unchanged.

As the representative from the State’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) stated in the article, temperature impacts from the cities and industries that discharge treated wastewater into the Willamette are not the main cause of the warming river. The real problems include the absence of trees along rivers and streams, the loss of wetlands and channel complexity, and low flows in late summer.  

DEQ has been supporting innovative strategies for addressing these complex issues by working with industrial entities and municipal wastewater utilities like Clean Water Services in Washington County, to allow for the restoration of streamside trees to provide shade instead of relying on narrowly focused, end-of-pipe solutions like the refrigeration of wastewater.  We need to support and continue to encourage DEQ and other state and federal regulatory agencies to encourage these types of innovative approaches which result in broader environmental benefit.   

Similar opportunities exist for other regulated activities including wetland and species impacts, carbon trading, and water banking. The Willamette Partnership, a coalition of environmental, business, public agency and agricultural leaders is working to create an integrated, transparent system that will leverage these opportunities and help ensure the money spent as a result of regulation achieves better environmental results.

We need to act now to ensure investments made for regulatory compliance go beyond simply stopping the impact.  By thinking more broadly about what the environment really needs, and using tools promoted by the Willamette Partnership and its growing alliance of supporters, healthy populations of fish and wildlife are a real possibility, as is a vibrant and sustainable environment for other species, including ourselves.

To read the Oregonian Article click here


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