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» DEQ has new plan to reduce mercury in river

HASSO HERING

A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

DEQ has new plan to reduce mercury in river

Written November 25th, 2019 by Hasso Hering

The Willamette at Albany on Oct. 15. The DEQ has issued a plan to reduce the tiny amount of mercury in the river water.

The DEQ announced on Monday it had issued its plan for reducing mercury pollution in the Willamette River. Whatever other merits this may have, it also gave me a pretext for using this photo of the river I took last month.

The DEQ calls the plan a TMDL, which stands for “total maximum daily load,” or the limit necessary to meet water quality standards.  This is a new version of the mercury TMDL that came out in 2006 and was never carried out. In 2011, the maximum standard for mercury in the water was lowered, and now, eight years later, we have the new plan.

(Mercury? As kids we used to play with the pure form of this metallic element. We called it quicksilver.)

The DEQ says the median concentration of mercury in the Willamette River Basin is 1.2 ng/L. That’s about 0.001 part per billion. The new standard is eight times smaller, or 0.14 ng/L. If the water had as little mercury in it as the new standard says, the DEQ figures fish caught in the river would be safe to eat. (Now you’re advised not to eat too many of them, according to the Oregon Health Authority.)

The funny part about the plan is that its goal — meeting the new standard — likely can’t ever be met. The DEQ acknowledges this. “The discharge limits based on meeting the water column criterion of 0.14 ng/L are not currently achievable,” it says in one of its publications.

Why not? Because almost all the mercury in the river comes from the atmosphere and from land erosion. Only 4 percent comes from industrial and municipal sources, according to the DEQ.

Still, the agency insists, something can be done. And it will make sure we do it. “The TMDL,” says the DEQ press release, “identifies the cities, counties, federal and state agencies, water discharge permittees and other responsible persons that must work together to reduce mercury in the Willamette River and its tributaries.”

“The goal of the revised TMDL,” the DEQ says, ” is to reduce mercury in the Willamette basin to levels that allow safe consumption of fish.”

Depending how much work and additional cost are involved in the coming mercury campaign, we might conclude that just not eating Willamettte River fish would be far less trouble and pretty easy to do. (hh)



9 responses to “DEQ has new plan to reduce mercury in river”

  1. My Real Name John Hartman says:

    Hasso writes, encouragingly: “…we might conclude that just not eating Willamettte River fish would be far less trouble and pretty easy to do.”

    Adopting Hering’s transactional belief system, and understanding that achieving clean air is difficult, we might conclude that just not breathing would be far less trouble and pretty easy to do.

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Evidently, the water is safe. It is the sediments that are the “problem.” Which means it is safe to eat migratory fish like salmon, but not resident fish, assuming the Willamette in Albany has them.

    So, swim as much as you want, just don’t eat the mud and limit your consumption of the fish that do.

    So, how much will these regs cost? What is their effect on the economy? Will the regs actually do anything to improve human health?

    Isn’t it obvious that the real goal here is to increase government authority over the economy and our personal lives?

    • My Real Name John Hartman says:

      “Isn’t it obvious that the real goal here is to increase government authority over the economy and our personal lives?”

      I was under the impression that after three years of MAGA Brilliance this pernicious “increase in government authority,” was to have been eliminated. Apparently the swamp is far from drained.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      “Isn’t it obvious that the real goal here is to increase government authority over the economy and our personal lives?”

      There you go again… Very obviously not so.

  3. Don says:

    What can be done?

  4. Bill Kapaun says:

    “The funny part about the plan is that its goal — meeting the new standard — likely can’t ever be met. The DEQ acknowledges this. “The discharge limits based on meeting the water column criterion of 0.14 ng/L are not currently achievable,” it says in one of its publications.”

    And who is to say they won’t lower the limit to more unobtainable standards?
    OR discover “other toxins” in the river that make mercury secondary on “the list”?

    It would seem there are far more cost effective methods for reducing “pollution” that would benefit a far greater number of people than those that eat fish from the Willamette.

    How many people spend enough time from their smart phones to actually grab a fishing rod and use it? How about several generations from now?

  5. centrist says:

    My take is that DEQ Staff has assigned a group the task of defining a path to compliance. That clears their plate but assigns a sysiphian task to others.
    Just WOW

  6. George Pugh says:

    Agriculture in the Willamette Valley has been identified as “other responsible persons” and had representation on the DEQ’s TMDL committee. The report I received was that they spoke but were not heard.
    As I was told, a current contribution of mercury is atmospheric from China. It falls on land and water, crops and forests and then is washed into the tributaries to the Willamette River. I have been told that it attaches to soil and transfers to the streams and river by erosion.
    Erosion, to some extent, is a constant. I have occasionally lead tours of agriculture in my area and when we cross Muddy CreeK I usually point out that the waterway’s name did not come from an early settler known as Mr. Muddy. My “Introduction to Oregon Geology” professor pointed out that the beautiful South Santiam Canyon was a product of erosion.,
    Some agricultural practices can exacerbate the process but most of these activities are regulated and monitored by the Oregon Department of Agriculture through the Agriculture Water Quality Plans for the various drainages into the Willamette. Anything that can limit rainwater from flowing across the surface of the land will help limit erosion. My favorite remedy is drainage tile which allows the water to filter through the soil and enter the ditches and streams in a pretty clean condition.
    What I fear is the Oregon DEQ will end up mandating practices costly to farmers but with little effectiveness as far as addressing the mercury “problem.” And when the goals are not met there will be an excuse to meet out fines for imperfect compliance, lack of reporting, etc.

  7. centrist says:

    Thanks for this probitive POV

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