Water Quality Programs

DEQ, the US Geological Survey and Deschutes County have determined that the safety of the groundwater in southern Deschutes and northern Klamath counties is threatened by nitrate contamination from traditional onsite septic wastewater treatment systems. The groundwater aquifer provides the drinking water source for most residents in this area.

DEQ and a steering committee of local area residents are now working with the community to find the best way to protect the groundwater.

Email your questions or comments for the Steering Committee or DEQ

July 2015

The Deschutes County Planning Commission held three public hearings in La Pine on the Goal 11 Exception application in July, 2015.  Visit the Deschutes County website for more information.

December 2013

DEQ held a public meeting Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 to share with residents a possible path forward regarding the nine recommendations from the steering committee.

View the presentation shared at the meeting.

The steering committee has submitted their recommendations and report to DEQ. DEQ is reviewing the committee’s recommendations and has not yet made any decisions on how or whether to implement them. Some of the recommendations require action by agencies other than DEQ and most will require an open, public process. The planning process will occur in the near future in partnership with the public, stakeholder groups and other state and local agencies. Some members of the committee will likely continue to engage in public outreach and education about groundwater contamination in the region. 



Most wells tap into an aquifer within 50 feet of the ground surface. The aquifers have no natural barriers to the ground surface and are very vulnerable to contamination from the surface. Nitrate contamination of groundwater aquifers is a problem in several areas of Oregon, as can be seen from the map showing the results of testing from real estate transactions between 1989 and 2008.

The La Pine area shows a clear area of contamination. In some areas of Oregon, the contamination comes from a combination of agricultural chemicals, animal waste and septic systems. In the La Pine area, the major source of contamination is septic systems. 

The contamination comes from the discharge of nitrate from septic systems. Groundwater in the southern Deschutes and northern Klamath aquifer is becoming contaminated with the nitrate at unsafe levels. Infants and pregnant or nursing women are especially vulnerable to increased nitrate levels. High levels of nitrate may also cause other health problems.

To protect the quality of the drinking water in the aquifer, Deschutes County passed an ordinance in 2008 requiring upgrades on all septic systems; voters overturned the ordinance in a special election in March 2009. Deschutes County has asked DEQ to take the lead to resolve the issue. At a meeting in July 2009, the public raised many questions about how to best approach the issue. The questions touched on a variety of issues and depending on the questions, different agencies have responded. DEQ has compiled the questions and answers.

Additional information

Information about nitrate contamination in Oregon is available from a study by Brenda Hoppe, Oregon State University and the Department of Human Services. The slides below illustrate how nitrates can affect health, and also provide a statistical analysis of nitrate contamination across Oregon. The data used comes from real estate transactions (RET) across the state, including the La Pine area.