A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Corona Days: Meanwhile at Talking Waters

Written April 3rd, 2020 by Hasso Hering

Talking Water Gardens on March 17. The waterfall in the distance was dry.

Albany’s Talking Water Gardens remain open to the public during the corona crisis, but visitors may find the waters silent, and lower than they used to be. What’s going on?

The waterfalls are not flowing, for one thing. And some of the ponds look more like they are merely moist.

You may recall that last July, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality fined the city of Albany $5,400, charging that underground leaks from the constructed wetlands into First Lake amounted to an unauthorized discharge of treated wastewater. The DEQ gave the city 90 days to develop a plan to stop the leaks.

Previously, the city had sued the engineering firm that designed the wetlands and oversaw its construction, which was completed in 2012 at a cost of about $14 million.

A couple of  weeks  ago I inquired about the conditions at Talking Waters and was referred to a couple of Portland law firms handling the litigation for Albany. I contacted one of them, Kerry Shepherd of Markowitz Herbold PC, and he replied:

“I have your inquiry about the Talking Water Gardens wetlands. The water in the gardens has been drawn down for maintenance and planting work as well as to address DEQ regulatory concerns associated with unpermitted leaking of treated effluent from the wetlands to adjacent waterways. While drawn down, the city will be studying the soils and site conditions and some flow will return, as needed, to maintain the health of the wetland.”

What happened to the DEQ’s 90-day deadline for Albany to come up with a plan? I touched base with Harry Esteve, the DEQ’s spokesman in Portland. He said the city had appealed, the matter was in litigation, and there was nothing more that he could say.

While we’re crashing the economy because of the corona panic and the media are forecasting unemployment of 20 percent, does anyone care about what happens with those artificial wetlands? Probably not. But low water or not, if you want to go for a walk to take your mind off the virus, the Talking Gardens are still a nice place to go. (hh)

16 responses to “Corona Days: Meanwhile at Talking Waters”

  1. MsJ says:

    Not surprised that anything has changed in 9 months.

    Looks like the city “plan” is to go through a lengthy court process while letting the ponds continue to leak.

    Ineptness & incompetence abounds within the city & the agency that’s supposed to prevent the ineptness.

    To answer Hasso’s question about why the ponds were drawn down, the city referred him to their lawyers – wonder how much that cost Albany residents ? (not blaming you Hasso for asking the question).

  2. E Garner says:

    As former water and waste water equipment designer. What type of treatment system is used for the discharge water?

    • Hasso Hering says:

      As I understand it, the water in the Talking Gardens has gone through the Albany-Millersburg sewage treatment plant and is ready for discharge to the Willamette. It is piped to the wetlands in order to cool it. Then it is discharged through the approved discharge in the river.

      • Al Nyman says:

        So whats the difference if it leaks into the contaminated ground water or contaminates the river. How can one be good (river) and one be bad (groundwater). And if you tell me groundwater is not contaminated, why does everybody with a well have a casing to the good water!

      • centrist says:

        If it weren’t for a river temperature-related issue, the water would be suitable for discharge?
        Seems to me that legal issue is that the leak constitutes an unlicensed discharge to unidentifiable locations.
        Modify the permit to tolerate that, learn the lesson about design, and move on.

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          If only Albany could arbitrarily “modify the permit,” it would be easy…

          • centrist says:

            Ray K
            It begins with a properly-phrased ( read that as non-adversarial) question. If the DEQ is dug in and insistent on throwing lawyers, the next step is the court of public opinion. Course, that won’t fly until the COVID genie is bottled

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Back in November you mentioned that the $33,000,000 suit filed in 2017 against CH2M Hill was still pending.

    It appears nothing has changed. It seems a little exorbitant that the system cost $14,000,000 and the city is seeking over twice that in damages.

    Given the Pepsi fund is almost gone, I suppose the city is eager to find another sugar daddy.

  4. H. R. Richner says:

    How about suing the state against its unfunded mandates in the first place?

  5. Lundy says:

    Hasso, are you generally supportive or unsupportive of the COVID-related governmental actions that have helped crash the economy?

    • Hasso Hering says:

      Still trying to make up my mind. Watching how things turn out in Sweden. I don’t blame our officials for their decisions. But in the end we may realize they were wrong. It would help if our health authorities were more open. “Underlying conditions?” If someone with severe heart disease and covid dies, did he did OF covid or WITH the virus?

      • Gordon L. Shadle says:

        Excellent point.

        It should also be noted that there is no international standard method for determining causes of death and recording them.

        Before Covid-19, the recording of many deaths did not identify co-morbidities (all of the diseases or conditions that were present at death).

        But currently every death associated with the Covid-19 virus is getting recorded as a coronavirus death.

        Like you asked, how many people died with coronavirus? How many people actually died from it?

        Which makes me wonder – are more people dying than normal? How accurate are the coronavirus death numbers being reported worldwide? You’d think these basic questions would be answered before invoking police state policies.

      • Lundy says:

        Thanks Hasso. I’ve raised that same question: Did the person die of the virus or with the virus? If you haven’t checked out the South Dakota governor’s four-minute explanation of her rationale for actions/lack of actions, I think you’d appreciate taking a look at it.

  6. Millersburg Resident says:

    “While we’re crashing the economy because of the corona panic…”

    What are you trying to say here? Do you believe we should be doing something else other than social distancing and staying at home?

  7. Ray Kopczynski says:

    “If the DEQ is dug in and insistent on throwing lawyers…”

    That and the fact of the builders malfeasance brought it to this point.

    “…the next step is the court of public opinion.”

    Which can only happen after the judicial system is through with it…


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