Skip to main content

Oregon State Flag An official website of the State of Oregon »

Coastal Water Quality

When most people think of water pollution, they think of factories or other locations that might release harmful chemicals from a smokestack or pipe. These are known as "point sources" of pollution. Many laws regulate point sources of pollution, and these laws have resulted in big improvements in air and water quality since they were put into place in the 1970s.

After these improvements, the federal government began to address other serious sources of pollution. As part of these efforts, the Coastal Zone Management Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990 (CZARA) required coastal states to address "non-point source" (NPS) pollution.

As the name suggests, there may not be a single specific point of origin for nonpoint source pollution. This makes finding a solution to the problem quite difficult. Any activity that deposits pollutants onto the ground or into the air where they are can be carried by rain to rivers and streams can contribute to NPS pollution.

Many small things like a well-fertilized lawns, or cars that drip oil, add up over time to have a big impact on water quality. NPS pollution can come from everyday land uses such as construction sites, lawns and gardens, outdoor commercial and industrial activity, commercial timber lands, farms, roads, streets, and highways. The negative effects of NPS pollution include changes in water quality such as higher water temperature, altered pH, or lower dissolved oxygen. Activities such as vegetation removal, stream alteration, or increasing impervious areas in a watershed tend to make the problems worse over time.

Oregon has worked to develop a Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program (CNPCP) that meets the requirements of CZARA for several years. The federal agencies in charge of approving the CNPCP are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Most of Oregon's strategies for water quality improvement and management measures for NPS pollution have been approved. However on January 30, 2015, NOAA and EPA found that the Oregon program was still lacking in some important areas. As a result, they issued a letter of disapproval of the program. The letter explained that Oregon still needs to implement additional management measures for forestry (see below), in order to achieve program approval. The program disapproval is based on findings that Oregon has not complied with this requirement.

Letter of Oregon Disapproval, January 30, 2015

The Coastal Zone Management Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990 (CZARA) were designed to protect coastal waters from the impacts of NPS pollution. Section 6217 of CZARA requires coastal states to start using NPS management measures written by the EPA. The EPA measures cover activities in farming, forestry, urban areas, marinas, areas near rivers and streams, and wetlands.

In 1998, the EPA and NOAA gave the Oregon program conditional approval. Conditional approval meant that the program would be approved if the state was able to meet certain specific conditions. Oregon was then given extra time to take action. Since 1998, Oregon has gone on to receive interim approval on all CZARA conditions except for the ones referred to as "additional management measures for forestry". (see the section on Additional Management Measures below)

In January 2015, EPA and NOAA disapproved the Oregon CNPCP for not implementing the additional management measures for forestry. In the disapproval letter, the federal agencies also expressed concern over the Oregon Department of Agriculture's enforcement program for nonpoint source pollution. Although this concern was not used as a basis for disapproval, EPA and NOAA have said they will revisit the issue the next time they review the state’s program for compliance. The time frame for future review is unknown.

Federal Review of Oregon's CNPCP

Most of the regulations in the Oregon CNPCP were developed as state rules not related to CZARA. For example: Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) water quality regulations; Department of State Lands (DSL) Wetland Program; Oregon's Forest Practices Act; Department of Agriculture (ODA) requirements for agricultural water quality management Plans; and the Water Resources Department (WRD) permitting requirements for water use, dam construction and dam operation. State statutes and rules describing these programs all contribute to the state's compliance with CZARA.

The CNPCP has also helped to create technical assistance (TA) programs to support individuals, business owners and local governments in reducing impacts on water quality:

  • The Oregon Coastal Management Program (OCMP) offers TA grants to help local governments improve understanding of watersheds, and to improve local ordinances to better protect water quality from the impacts of urban development
  • The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) both have CNPCP grant programs
  • The Oregon State Marine Board (OMB) offers a "Clean Marina" certification. This voluntary program provides support and incentives to marina and boat yard managers who want to improve operations and reduce impacts on water quality.

CZARA section 6217(b)(3) requires coastal states to achieve and maintain the water quality standards of section 303 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. In 1998, Oregon had a growing list of rivers and stream that did not meet these standards. The state was also worried that several Oregon salmon populations might get listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

EPA and NOAA concluded that the problems in Oregon streams and rivers were due in part to commercial logging operations in coastal watersheds. As a result, they imposed the following additional management measures on Oregon:

  1. Protect riparian areas for medium-sized and small fish-bearing (type "F") streams and non-fish-bearing (type "N") streams
  2. Address the impacts of forest roads, particularly so-called "legacy" roads
  3. Protect high-risk landslide areas
  4. Ensure adequate stream buffers for the application of herbicides, particularly on non-fish bearing streams

In April 2017, the Oregon Board of Forestry adopted new rules to increase shade buffers on small and medium salmon, steelhead and bull trout fish-bearing streams. Oregon has described the strategies in place to address the remaining additional management measures, but EPA and NOAA have not found them to be acceptable.

Oregon continues to work on strategies to reduce the impact of nonpoint source pollution on coastal water quality. Discussions have continued between the state and the federal agencies, however no formal assessment has been completed since 2015. It is not known when the state will seek a reassessment from EPA and NOAA.

Disapproval of Oregon's CNPCP has resulted in 30% reductions of federal funds, approximately $1.2 M annually, for two important programs. The programs affected are DEQ's nonpoint source reduction program, and the Oregon Coastal Management Program (OCMP).

The reduction of funding for the OCMP has resulted in the suspension of planning assistance grants for local governments in the coastal zone and the loss of two staff positions. As of spring 2019, the total loss of funding for the OCMP is approximately $2.6 M.


Amanda Punton
Coastal Water Quality and Natural Resources Specialist
Phone: 971-718-3245