HASSO HERING

A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Why Talking Gardens have less water

Written June 12th, 2024 by Hasso Hering

This channel at Talking Water Gardens used to feed a long waterfall wall. The feature now is dry and overgrown.

The Talking Water Gardens between Albany and Millersburg look a little odd this spring. There’s less water in the ponds.

The bike took me out to the Talking Waters on Monday night after I watched the opening and closing minutes of a YouTube video of a joint “executive session” of the Albany and Millersburg city councils. Most of the one-hour, 21-minute session was behind closed doors, with the cameras turned off, but it was clear that it was about the Water Gardens.

That evening the system of ponds and waterfalls looked different. The water level in the ponds was down, and a green layer of duckweed covered the surface of what water there was.

I emailed Kristin Preston with a question about this. She’s an engineer and the operations manager in Albany Public Works, and she explained:

“As part of our agreement with DEQ to minimize the leakage, we are currently putting lower amounts of treated effluent from the Water Reclamation Facility into Talking Water Gardens. We are managing the water to sustain the health of the wetland plants and ecosystem, and like natural wetlands, they don’t really need a lot of water in the summer. That means we aren’t currently maximizing the heat/temperature reduction benefits of the wetland.”

In July 2019, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality fined Albany $5,400 because some of the already treated wastewater in Talking Waters had been leaking through a berm into First Lake. The DEQ said this was an unauthorized discharge and ordered the city to come up with a plan to minimize the leakage until it is stopped.

The leakage was one of the reasons Albany in 2017 sued CH2M-Hill, the engineering firm that designed the Talking Water Gardens. The construction was completed in 2012 at a cost of around $14 million.

The suit claimed damages of $4 million for additional engineering and consulting; $22 million to line the ponds holding treated wastewater so they don’t leak; and $7 million to acquire more land to expand the wetlands.

The suit remains pending in Linn County Circuit Court after the defendant tried unsuccessfully to move it to federal court in 2019.

Monday’s Albany-Millersburg council confab was about the suit. You could tell this because two of the people attending virtually were Kerry Shepherd, the lawyer handling the litigation for the cities, and Laura Maffei, a lawyer with the firm handling the city’s Talking Water dealings with the DEQ.

Later, Albany City Attorney Sean Kidd told me the goal of the executive session was to update the councils on the status of the action, but there’s not much going on. No settlement is pending, and no trial date is set.

“Nothing on the docket even until a status conference in court in September,” Kidd said.

Whether some of the water in the ponds leaks into First Lake doesn’t make any difference in nature. But it matters to the DEQ.

And the legal action grinds on, even more slowly than water seeping through the ground. (hh)

Ducks look like rocks sticking out of the green layer covering water in the lower pond on June 10, 2024.

 

Ironically, the city sign at Talking Waters thanks workers at CH2M, which the city later sued.





3 responses to “Why Talking Gardens have less water”

  1. Al Nyman says:

    I fail to see the DEQ’s reasoning. The Talking Gardens are exactly like a septic tank where the waste water goes into the ground rather than the river. Didn’t they set up the lakes as holding ponds or what is their purpose?

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Your reference to “septic tank” is spot on.

      And it reminded me that “Talking Gardens” is a euphemism.

      Which also reminded me of a quote from English writer Quentin Crisp:

      Euphemisms are unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne.

  2. James Engel says:

    You write “have less water”. Shouldn’t it have been “Has”…. Ya I know, potato OR potato, or tomato or tomato….

 

 
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