DEQ has been working with partners in the Upper Deschutes and Little Deschutes subbasins for over 10 years to assess water quality in rivers, streams and lakes. The data gathered as part of this process indicate that, at some locations and times, water is not healthy for fish and aquatic life. The main water quality issues of concern include high temperatures, low dissolved oxygen concentrations, high pH levels, excessive amounts of algae (chlorophyll a) and excessive amounts of fine-grained sediment and turbidity.
DEQ contracted some of the temperature modeling work to Watershed Sciences, Inc., with financial support from EPA. This contract work was done from 2007-2011. Watershed Sciences completed Temperature Modeling Reports for this work. It is likely this initial modeling work done by Watershed Sciences will be modified by DEQ during TMDL development. The existing models may be revised to incorporate more site-specific input gathered from local stakeholders during the advisory committee process.
During the period 2000-2012, DEQ informally met with different groups and individuals around the region, discussing the upcoming TMDLs. These groups have included Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, Local Advisory Committee for the Upper Deschutes Agriculture Water Quality Management Area Plan, Deschutes Water Alliance, Working Group for the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan, Water and Soils staff with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and others.
Technical Advisory Committee
In March, 2012, DEQ convened the Upper Deschutes and Little Deschutes Technical Advisory Committee The Committee met five times in 2012 and provided valuable local input to DEQ on our technical analyses. We had hoped to have these TMDLs completed by the end of 2012, however we have put our temperature TMDL work on hold because of on-going litigation about DEQ’s temperature standard (see below). DEQ staff will continue to refine the computer models for dissolved oxygen, pH and nutrients. However, it is not yet clear if we will be able to proceed with these TMDLs, or if they may also get tied up in the litigation. Future committee meetings have been put on hold until the litigation is further resolved.
In 2005, Northwest Environmental Advocates challenged EPA’s approval of Oregon’s temperature standard. On February 28, 2012, Federal Magistrate Judge Acosta issued a ruling which upheld EPA’s approval of the Oregon DEQ’s numeric temperature water quality criteria, while rejecting certain narrative criteria, including the “natural conditions” criterion. DEQ and NW Pulp and Paper Association have entered the case as intervenor-defendants. The court ordered the parties to confer on remedies and to propose a briefing schedule to resolve any disputed issues. The court has not entered a judgment yet. Until this case is resolved, DEQ is not issuing any temperature TMDLs which rely on the temperature standard’s natural conditions criteria.
Read the Court Opinion in this litigation.
At this point, we are waiting to learn the outcome of the temperature litigation. Once that has been decided, we will have a better idea of how we can move forward with TMDLs for the Upper and Little Deschutes Subbasins. If we are able to resume our work, we will re-engage the Technical Advisory Committee and continue with our analyses and TMDL document preparation.