A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

At stake with DEQ: Saving Talking Waters

Written November 1st, 2019 by Hasso Hering

The pond near the entrance to the Talking Water Gardens on Oct. 5.

On June 13, the state Department of Environmental Quality gave the city of Albany 90 days to come up with a plan to stop leaks from Talking Water Gardens. The deadline has passed, but evidently it wasn’t meant to be met.

When I inquired last week, I was told the city was still negotiating with the DEQ.

In its enforcement action last spring, accompanied by a $5,400 penalty, the DEQ asserted that underground seepage of treated wastewater from the Talking Water ponds amounted to an unauthorized discharge. The agency told the city to evaluate options for reducing the leaks and then to submit its plan to stop them.

One way to stop the leaks is to shut down the Talking Water Gardens, constructed at a cost of about $14 million and completed in 2012. That would presumably obligate the city to find some other way to cool the treated wastewater discharged to the Willamette River from the Albany-Millersburg Water Reclamation Facility.

Another way might be to drain the ponds, excavate the soil in which the aquatic pond plants grow, put in an impervious layer — clay, concrete, plastic? — and put the dirt and plants back in.

Another possibility is to persuade the state regulators that the leakage is no big deal and should not be considered an unauthorized point of wastewater discharge. After all, the seepage that is eventually reaching the river has already been treated and comes from ponds holding water going into the river through two authorized diffusers on the bottom of the river.

This is the outcome, as I understand it, that city officials and their Portland lawyers are trying to achieve. It’s the sensible solution. The leaks cause no harm, and stopping them one way or another would likely cost millions. Who would have to pay those millions? That’s not clear, but probably not the DEQ. (hh)

19 responses to “At stake with DEQ: Saving Talking Waters”

  1. Phyllis Smith says:

    YES! Totally agree with your statement: Persuade the state regulators that the leakage is no big deal and should not be considered an unauthorized point of wastewater discharge. Save some money here, (lots) and allow us to enjoy, Talking Water Gardens. Easy, done!

  2. Terry Fuston says:

    2012? Typo?

  3. Jon says:

    Thanks for the update, Hasso. I would hate to see Talking Waters shuttered and I do hope an easy fix or agreement can be reached. While I surmise there is indeed no harm from the leakage, I know I am not qualified to make that assertion (nor, I expect, are you). Certainly the DEQ will want due diligence in the matter prior to settling on a no-action solution. Simply stating that “the leaks cause no harm…” does not make it true, no matter how reductive an argument you make.

  4. H. R. Richner says:

    Paying a $5400 penalty is the cheapest of the solutions. When will we start telling the wannabe totalitarians in Salem that we will no longer tolerate their unfunded mandates?

  5. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Didn’t the city sue CH2M Hill about $33,000,000 back in 2017 to fix this problem?

    Was the suit settled?

  6. Ean says:

    Can they not just modify the permit to include an additional point of discharge? Then it would be authorized.

  7. centrist says:

    Sounds like the water group is taking a position that prevents a reasonable solution. A $5400 fine is trivial compared to the cost to alleviate percolation.
    Let’s think this through. The influent to the Garden is suitable for discharge to public waters, except for temperature. The sticking point is that effluent flow doesn’t match influent. Could it be that the percolation loss is actually an unexpected function that improves performance?

  8. MsJ says:

    If the wastewater was harmless, DEQ would not have spent the time on a $5,400 fine, they are pretty notorious for inaction, let alone enforcing their own edicts (the deadline passed 7 weeks ago, oh well !).

    It’s too bad DEQ & the City just don’t give a darn, they both just go through meaningless automaton motions.

    My understanding is that Wah Chang sends their wastewater to Talking Water Gardens and that is probably the crux of the issue especially when the Gardens leak like a sieve above & below.

  9. thomas cordier says:

    I’m shocked! A water flow following a tortuous path flowing to an established river–leaking?? Who would’ve predicted that?

  10. Jim Engel says:

    Damn crying shame a sensible & workable plan can’t be arrived at what I believe are educated adults. I’m projecting forward to 2100 AD when my great, great, great grandchildren will marvel that Albany had such foresight back in the early 20000’s to put such a plan into action. It should by then be more forested with nature areas in a City of maybe 200,000????

  11. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Absolutely & 100% spot on Jim!

  12. centrist says:

    Waking thought this morning — how big is this leak? Guessing the quantity is based on the difference in measure in a d out flows. Device calibration could account for 5% difference. Floral transpiration has to be significant.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      Pls clarify “in measure in a d outflows.” What does that mean?

      • centrist says:

        measured values of inflow and outflow

        Not noted for typing skills, particularly on a phone


    • Hasso Hering says:

      How big is the leak? Kerry Shepherd, Albany’s lawyer in the city’s litigation with CH2M Hill, supplied an answer: “It is challenging to measure the leakage because the volumes depend on the time of year and a multitude of variables. We believe the wetlands are leaking approximately 700 to 800 gallons per day, subject to changed conditions as noted. All of the cells are leaking, some more than others. Much of the water is leaking through the bottom of the wetland cells to groundwater. Presumably some of that treated water is making its way to First Lake. Additionally, there are multiple leaks through and under the berms, and that leakage is going into First Lake, Cox Creek and Burkhart Creek.”

  13. S Park says:

    Whoever designed and/or built Talking Gardens should be responsible for any penalties that ensue.


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