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Water Quality

Temperature, bacteria, sedimentation, toxic algae, stormwater, emerging contaminants

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Temperature: Our water is threatened by a variety of things that compromise the quality of this vital resource. Throughout the Rogue Basin, our streams violate standards for temperature because the water is too warm for salmon. This pervasive water quality problem is largely due to extensive riparian clearing from logging, mining and urbanization. When we remove streamside trees and vegetation, we remove natural shading that keeps the sun from directly heating up creeks. Other activities that contribute to high water temperatures include irrigation return flows and water withdrawals (click here for a map of streams listed for temperature).

lbc signBacteria: We have a basinwide bacteria problem where fecal coliform, E. coli and other bacteria threaten human health and water quality. While there is extensive testing that has determined chronic bacteria problems, the actual source of elevated bacteria levels are less known. Common sources of bacteria pollution include sewage systems, leaking septic tanks, irrigation return flows and runoff from cattle grazing operations (click here for a map of streams listed for E. coli). In 2012, Rogue Riverkeeper is working on our third year of a bacteria sourcing project in the Rogue Basin. We have extensively studied chronic bacteria pollution in Ashland and Little Butte Creeks and are now studying Evans Creek. Each project results in a report that we use to advocate for action to address the problem. Click here to download our bacteria reports.

Tyler Creek Road SedimentSedimentation: Sediment is loose sand, clay, silt and other soil particles that settle at the bottom of a body of water. Sediment can come from natural soil erosion or human activities that disturb the soil. The EPA lists sediment as the most common pollutant in U.S. waters with 30% of the total sediment coming from natural sources and 70% coming from accelerated erosion due to human activities such as construction and logging. Sediment in streams disrupts the natural food chain by destroying the habitat where the smallest stream organisms live and causing massive declines in fish populations. Sediment can clog fish gills, reducing resistance to disease, lowering growth rates, and affecting fish egg and larvae development. Nutrients transported by sediment can activate toxic algae that can make swimmers sick and kill dogs. Sediment also increases the cost of treating drinking water (click here for a map of streams listed for sedimentation).

anaToxic Algae: Locally and globally, cyanobacteria blooms—or toxic algae—are an escalating problem that threatens water supplies, human health, and wildlife. For the last four years, Lost Creek Lake and Willow Lake in the Rogue Basin have been posted as hazardous due to the growth of toxic cyanobacteria and several dogs died in 2010 after swimming in toxic algae-infested water in the Umpqua Basin. A growing body of evidence suggests that harmful algal blooms are increasing worldwide. According to an assessment by the National Science and Technology Council, there are more harmful algal bloom species, more harmful algal bloom events, more algal toxins, more areas affected, more fisheries impacted, and higher economic losses today compared to 25 years ago.  The key management action for abatement of toxic algae is to address the source of the problem by control and reduction of external nutrient loading to the waterbody. The three major nutrient inputs are run-off and erosion from fertilized agricultural areas, erosion from deforestation, and sewage.

In 2010, Rogue Riverkeeper submitted data to Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) requesting that all waterbodies in Oregon that had been repeatedly posted with toxic algae warnings be added to a list of "impaired" waterbodies under the Clean Water Act. Such a listing is an important step in funding research, identifying the cause of the pollution and designing a restoration plan to minimize or eliminate such harmful pollution. DEQ added such waterbodies, including Lost Creek Lake, Fish Lake and Willow Lake to the Clean Water Act's "impaired" list.

Ashland StormwaterStormwater: Nonpoint source pollution is a constant threat to water quality because it comes from many diffuse sources, such as polluted runoff from agricultural areas, city streets or logging operations far from people. Nonpoint source pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries pollutants and deposits them into waterbodies. These pollutants include fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides from agricultural lands and residential areas; Oil, grease, and toxic chemicals from urban runoff and energy production; Sediment from improperly managed construction sites, crop and forest lands, and eroding streambanks; Acid drainage from abandoned mines; Bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pet wastes, and faulty septic systems. In contrast to point source pollution where a pipe or other conveyance is discharging a pollutant, nonpoint source pollution is more difficult to identify and address.

Emerging Contaminants: When streams restored to apparently healthy conditions still could not support salmon and subtle reproduction anomalies began appearing in small populations of people, awareness of the potential effects of emerging contaminants became more widespread. The term “emerging contaminant” encompasses a wide range of chemicals or materials that are characterized by a potential or real threat to human health or the environment or lack of published health standards. A contaminant may also be “emerging” because of the ability for it to be detected by new test methods or by the discovery of a new source or a new pathway to humans. Many pharmaceuticals and personal care products detected in the environment can be considered emerging contaminants since they lack published health standards. Other classes of emerging contaminants include endocrine disrupting chemicals, organic wastewater contaminants, persistent organic pollutants, contaminants of emerging concern and nanomaterials.

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