A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Two years on: Water Gardens still in danger

Written August 31st, 2021 by Hasso Hering

Visiting the Talking Water Gardens on the evening of Aug. 22.

In case you have forgotten, it was more than two years ago that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality fined Albany $5,400 and gave the city 90 days to submit a plan to stop underground leaks from the Talking Water Gardens.

That action was nuts because the leakage can’t be stopped without enormous expense. But as far as I know it has not been resolved. The city remains under threat of further enforcement action from this state agency, which seems to have thrown reason to the wind. If this continues, the future of the Water Gardens is in doubt.

The Water Gardens were completed in 2012 at a cost of around $14 million in an attempt to cool treated wastewater from the Albany-Millersburg treatment plant before it goes into the Willamette River. (This itself was a questionable goal, but put that aside for the moment.)

Turns out that water from  the garden’s ponds seeps underground and some of it gets into First Lake and then the river. Why would anyone care, seeing that the water is already treated and clean enough for the river? Because, the DEQ claimed, the leakage amounted to an unauthorized discharge. If that’s so, the simple solution is to authorize it.

In 2019, when this debacle started, the city faced the possibility of having to spend millions of dollars to fix something that no reasonable person considers an actual, real-world problem. And so it sued the engineers who designed the Water Gardens, also for millions of dollars. That action remains pending.

Two years ago city officials and their lawyers were telling me they were negotiating with the DEQ to find a solution. No result of these negotiations has been announced, so we can assume the DEQ remains unmoved by common sense. Unless they relent, the only solution may be to shut the Water Gardens down.

If we had top leaders in the state government that paid attention to issues like these, this situation would never have come up. Officials in the DEQ would have realized that water usually does seep through the bottom of artificial ponds. Hard to see how this could have come as a surprise, since plans for the water gardens presumably had been approved by the DEQ itself.

Now it’s two years later. This is not the worst mistake the state government has made, but because it continues it’s one of the dumbest. (hh)

20 responses to “Two years on: Water Gardens still in danger”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Your criticism of Oregon DEQ is not constructive and may amount to sedition.

    Your cheap shots undermine the respect that every Oregon subject must have for DEQ authority.

    As their website informs, DEQ focuses their compliance resources “on the most serious environmental violations to ensure that people in Oregon may enjoy a healthy environment.”

    DEQ has decided that this leakage is a SERIOUS violation. Ergo, the state has properly exercised its power to punish.

    Your role as a subject, and the city’s role as a lesser government, is to bow your head, take a knee, and genuflect in humble submission. It’s for the common good.

    • Craig Cassell says:

      Spoken like a true, power hungry, Liberal.

      – no common sense
      – preaches entitlement for those making decisions
      – expects to be obeyed and looked up to
      -exercises unnecessary power

      Listen here Scooter, this is the United States of America. And according to our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, we don’t take a knee or bow to ANYONE.

      Feel free to do that to whomever you want in some other country.

      Hasson Hering was spot on. There are bigger and more important fish to fry than trying to make a bottle of grape juice from 1 grape. Doesn’t make much sense.

      • Hasso Hering says:

        Remember that as often as not, Shadle exercises his penchant for parody.

        • Gordon L. Shadle says:

          Guilty as charged.

          But it is impossible to parody government screwiness in such a way that someone won’t mistake it for the genuine thing.

          Next time I’ll give it more voice inflection and body language….or at least a sideways smile at the end that says, “I’m only half kidding.” :-)

      • Francois DeLacroix says:

        The blind leading the blind

  2. Jake JJ Jack Johnny Hartman says:

    Not sure if this argument holds any water:

    “That action (referring to Oregon DEQ action) was nuts because the leakage can’t be stopped without enormous expense.”

    Since when did anyone in this country care whether or not “enormous expense” should prohibit action. Americans regularly throw bales of cash at problems knowing full well the result will be weak, ineffective or just plain disastrous.

    Witness the 20-year effort to install democracy in Afghanistan. At least $2-trillion taxpayer dollars…at least 2500 American soldiers killed, several tens-of-thousands injured both physically and psychologically, and several tens-of-thousands of Afghani civilians killed and/or injured…yet Americans were more than willing – and many still are – willing to pour even more blood and treasure into that Black Hole. So why all the fuss over a paltry few million to fix the Talking Gardens fiasco?

    • Rick Staggenborg MD says:

      Great point, but it depends on what the money is spent on. No one questions trillions for wars for pipelines and weapons producer profits, but talk about investing in infrastructure and all of a sudden some people start bloviating about “fiscal responsibility.”

  3. Rd says:

    This report was spot on and by no means do they need to revise this.. its an accurate account of DEQ and the government bs that goes on..

    • Bob Woods says:

      So, a project that is not supposed to leak, is leaking. And you think everyone should just ignore it?

      This isn’t “the governments fault”. This is the fault of the private sector contractors who did the project for a whole bunch of money.

      Where else are the leaks going beside First Lake? Under the railroad tracks? Over under the industrial areas? Into the groundwater? Does treated sewage have the same effects on groundwater that is does being diluted by the millions of gallons in the Willamette, or is it a bigger problem?

      I can’t answer those problems, Can you?

  4. Jennifer Munro says:

    Thank you for the update. Talking Water is a jewel of Albany and incredibly important for birds, and it would be catastrophic to lose it.

  5. Zayne Underwood says:

    Don’t forget the, “Insure Oregon”, Oracle debacle several years back when it cost taxpayers multiple millions or more…
    our finest Oregon government at work….
    Same group of characters… Take money don’t care spend more don’t care take more money spend more don’t care…..

  6. Bob Woods says:

    Just a guess, but DEQ may not be acting because they know that legal action is in place which will, hopefully, result in the engineering firm and contractors being held liable because the project WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO LEAK!

    Modern sanitary landfills have membrane liners to keep stuff from leaching into the soil. There’s really no excuse that the engineers and contractors did not do the job right. They should bear the cost to fix it.

  7. brian says:

    it’s because they don’t think they authorized it….. NOT because it causes any harm. I think it’s time to make those charging $$$ for approving plans like talking water.. take some responsibility for the results of those decisions…

    • Bob Woods says:

      Why isn’t it the responsibility of the contractors who said they could do the job for lot’s of $$$$. They were asked to design and build a facility that would do the job and wouldn’t leak.

      But you blame the government? Letting the people who made a contractual promise and got the cash off the hook?

      Shame on you.

      • Jake Jaques JJ Johnny Hartman says:

        In the minds of a certain set of people, many who reside in Linn County and, more specifically – inside Albany’s borders – believe fervently that the government is totally inept, while simultaneously believing the Private Sector is above reproach. This is why the Sachler family is attempting to dodge responsibility for the Oxycontin Disaster. They are, after all, just a nice pleasant family trying to serve a need.

        • Abe Cee says:

          In fairness to the Sachler family, the did not make anyone take Oxy, or continue to take Oxy.

          I suppose you hold gun manufacturers liable for producing guns rather than the idiots that commit crimes with guns? How about hammer or axe manufacturers for crimes committed with those items by still other idiots?

  8. Bob Woods says:

    “In fairness to the Sachler family, the did not make anyone take Oxy, or continue to take Oxy.”

    Yes they did.

    The did it the old fashioned way by bribing distributors, doctors and pharmacists by showering them with luxury, “free” gifts. big $”consulting projects” while KNOWING that huge numbers of people were being addicted by prescriptions from their family doctors, with easy and numerous refills way beyond any legitimate therapeutic need.

    It is the most egregious display of coercion, greed and abdication of responsibility the nation has ever seen. There is NO EXCUSE for you’re excusing them.

    The deserve to die in jail. but they won’t. Why?

    Because they’re fabulously wealthy and big-time political donors.

    • Deborah Lynne says:

      Actually because a product exists doesn’t mean you have to use it. It think the doctors bear a major responsibility for prescribing the drugs. Patients take drugs at the recommendation of their doctor who should be aware of the extreme potential for addiction.

  9. FATE from Farm State says:

    Spitting in the wind are we???

    Getting back to Bob’s comment (you wind bags), the gov agency is waiting to scoop up all the $$$ from the award Albany receives from the Approved Settlement.

    So get ready for your utility bill to go UP even more. TW Survives YAY!!!!!! LOL

    • Bob Woods says:

      You mean the money that Albany already PAID the company? The money it’s going to take to fix the leaks? This isn’t a gift from the heavens.

      And, yeah, Utility Rates will continue to rise because that’s been the plan for decades. Better to have small continuing increased on a regular basis to pay the the cost for major projects, rather than you getting a bill for a multimillion dollar repair/replacement project that says “your share is $11,000, please pay by the 30th.” NOBODY wants that.

      Go to the city website and read the entire Water/Sewer/Stormwater Master Plans. You will find that things are a lot bigger and more complex than you understand.

      That’s the real world, not a political position.


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