A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

DEQ fines city over Talking Water leaks

Written July 16th, 2019 by Hasso Hering

Listening to the calming murmurs of Albany’s Talking Water Gardens on a sunny afternoon, you would not think there could be a problem. But there is, or at least the DEQ thinks it’s a problem.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality announced on Tuesday that it had fined Albany $5,400 because some of the treated wastewater circulating through the artificial wetlands has been leaking into the ground and getting into First Lake, eventually reaching the Willamette River.

The leaking under the northern berms of the Water Gardens has been going on since the city told the DEQ about it in 2013, the first year of the facility’s operation. Albany and Millersburg completed the joint project in 2012 at a cost of about $14 million, mainly to satisfy a DEQ requirement that treated wastewater be cooled.

The underground seepage is one of the reasons the city filed a lawsuit against CH2M-Hill, the engineering firm that designed the Water Gardens. The suit remains pending and is still in its preliminary stages. Only recently did an appeals court rule that the case can be heard in Linn County Circuit Court.

The DEQ notified the city’s law firm handling the suit and related matters, Cable Huston in Portland, of the fine on June 13 and allowed 20 days to contest the action. (Officially it’s not a fine but a civil penalty.) Albany did not appeal the DEQ action.

The DEQ’s complaint is that Albany is authorized to have only two discharge points of treated wastewater, and both are close together in the Willamette River at River Mile 118. The agency contends that the unintentional leaking from the Talking Water Gardens is an unauthorized point of discharge.

In addition to imposing the penalty, the DEQ gave Albany 90 days to submit for approval a plan to stop the leaks. In the meantime, the city is supposed to evaluate options for reducing the volume of the leakage.

If there was a simple way to slow or stop the leaks, Albany would have done so years ago.  One way is to drain the wetlands, dig up the ponds, install some kind of impervious liner, and start over with new plants. Or abandon the Talking Water Gardens altogether and shut the place down.

The irony is that after years of slow or no plant growth, the ponds finally look like they’re developing a more extensive cover, something that’s essential if the mission of cooling the water is to be accomplished.

Also, don’t forget that we’re talking about water that’s already been treated and is ready to be discharged to the river, going through the Gardens only to be cooled. So if some of this clean water leaks into the stagnant hole that is First Lake, what’s the harm? Are the turtles going to complain? (hh)

One of the waterfalls at Talking Water Gardens on Tuesday afternoon.





10 responses to “DEQ fines city over Talking Water leaks”

  1. Bryan says:

    Your “what’s the harm” attitude is what got us here in the first place and created the need for no exceptions type attitude/policy. That’s also the thinking that gave us the psychotic extreme left.

  2. Country Boy says:

    Actually, if a “what’s the harm” standard were applied, there would be no issue. In that case the logical conclusion would be “no harm, no foul” – a centuries-old tenet that applied to all sorts of issues. Here it would be that the water was treated, the leaching is a naturally occurring event, no damage is done; therefore no penalty is required. But that is not how bureaucracies operate. They follow the rules strictly by the book – common sense and logic not-withstanding. That is how we get an out-of-control, never-ending government, layer on layer. More rules require more enforcers, more enforcers find more “infractions”; which require more rules, etc., etc.; in a never ending cycle. That is how democracy expands (descends?) into socialism and socialism into communism. And it’s always done “to help the people”. That’s why it’s called being “Progressive”.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      So where do you draw the line as to what causes harm? (What level of harm is acceptable to you?) I agree we’re splitting hairs in many cases, but as science & technology evolve, things we all took for granted years ago, we wouldn’t dream of allowing into our watersheds or air. Well, actually, that’s incorrect – current federal governance has been blowing away many safeguards. That will change down the road…

  3. Rich Kellum says:

    The whole Idea that we should spend millions of dollars to cool water a degree or two is silly, in 1900 you could walk across the Willamette in the fall, and the water temp was much higher, we didn’t have all the dams providing cool water to the river all thru the summer… so now we are held to a standard that is higher than it was in “ancient times” so the fish can thrive, that didn’t exist in ancient times because they couldn’t get over Willamette Falls at Oregon City before the fish ladders for the vast majority of the time… should we not pollute, of course we shouldn’t, but it would be nice if we kept our brain turned on.

    • J. Jacobson says:

      One hopes ALL City Councilors will keep their brain open….and other orifices closed.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Good observation. But the issue Hasso identified doesn’t have anything to do with water temp.

      The issue here is “Albany is authorized to have only two discharge points of treated wastewater.”

      A bureaucratic bean counter says three is too many, even if the third is due to natural seepage and the water is as clean as when two discharge points exist.

      Like Country Boy wrote: “But that is not how bureaucracies operate. They follow the rules strictly by the book – common sense and logic not-withstanding.”

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        It’s not like this issue is a surprise by any means. The “rules” are/were created with reasoning. How they are interpreted is open for discussion and push-back. Don’t like the interpretations? Change the rules through normal channels.. Don’t just whine about it…

  4. MsJ says:

    I wouldn’t characterize the water entering talking water gardens as ‘clean’ by any means.

    Water entering the gardens is extremely high in total dissolved solids, the major source being wastewater from ATI Millersburg.

    Concentrations this high are toxic to turtles, plants, and other aquatic life at close range.

    Given that the problem was recognized 6 years ago and now a plan must be implemented speaks for the ineptitude of DEQ and City alike, both of which are supposed ‘protectors’ of the environment, a sickening revelation IMO.

  5. HowlingCicada says:

    See how the same DEQ deals with real issues.

    “””The Moss That Saved Portland

    Roadside plants helped officials trace the source of a public health crisis and led to new standards for clean air in Oregon.

    Five months passed before the DEQ placed air monitors near the metal hot spots that the moss testing had revealed. And the agency waited another three months before telling Bullseye that its southeast Portland factory was the prime source of the toxic cadmium emissions. When the public and Governor Kate Brown learned of the regulators’ lackadaisical approach to addressing such a serious case of air pollution, they cried foul.”””


  6. Jim Engel says:

    Hey DEQ, whatcha gonna do about all the acid rain fall’in from the sky from clouds blowing over from China??!!


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