Action Alert! Speak up for streams in eastern Oregon!

Streams on public lands in eastern Oregon need your help! 

Please email the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and (politely!) ask them to ensure that water quality data for streams on National Forests in eastern Oregon are included in their current ‘call for data’. Ask ODEQ to commit being flexible with their deadline for accepting data from Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project as a result of our FOIA request to the Forest Service.  

Every few years, ODEQ puts out a call for data, during which agencies such as the US Forest Service (USFS) can submit water quality monitoring data they’ve collected. Apparently, the Forest Service is not legally required to share their water quality data, even when data are requested by ODEQ. However, the state regulatory processes rely on the agencies that manage public lands, such as the USFS, to fulfill their obligations for monitoring and transparency. It is extremely important that the USFS share their data in order for the state’s water quality protection programs to function as intended.

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for water quality data on the Deschutes, Ochoco, Umatilla, Malheur, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests. We submitted our request as soon as ODEQ’s ‘call for data’ was published. However, FOIA requests are often stalled and delayed, and so we are requesting that ODEQ allow reasonable flexibility of their deadline so that this important information can be included in their call for data and upcoming assessments.

BMBP will be pressuring the Forest Service to submit their own data before the ODEQ call for call for data deadline on June 29th. However, the USFS has shown very little inclination to submit their data to ODEQ since the 1990s. Consequently, we are working to ensure that we are able to submit the USFS data that we receive from our FOIA request– even if the agency fails to submit their own data.

Please send your email by June 21st to: IntegratedReport@deq.state.or.us

What’s the issue? Streams on public lands are suffering from widespread degradation. For example, at least 1,240 miles of streams on National Forests in the Blue Mountains are listed as water quality impaired. This estimate originates from ODEQ’s water quality assessments. However, because the Forest Service has repeatedly failed to submit their stream monitoring data to ODEQ, this figure is almost certainly a severe underestimation and fails to accurately encompass the scope of the problem on public lands.

According to state regulatory practices, streams with water quality violations are assessed and may be listed on ODEQ’s “303d list” so that agencies can identify issues and develop plans to address the causes of the water quality impairments. Without an accurate listing of which streams are violating water quality standards, it is impossible for either ODEQ or the Forest Service to develop plans to restore those streams or to address watershed-scale issues.

The most common water quality violation in the Blue Mountains is excessively high stream temperature. Many streams on public lands in eastern Oregon support threatened species such as Bull trout and Mid-Columbia River steelhead that require cold, clean water. Top predators such as Bull trout play key roles in stream ecosystems. Unfortunately, Bull trout and Redband trout have already lost much of their historic habitat. Excessive fine sediments in streams are also a serious, widespread, and severely under-reported problem.

During our ongoing research on timber sales, BMBP has found numerous streams that exceed state water quality standards– according to the USFS’s own monitoring data. Some of these streams also exceed temperature threshold for migration, spawning, or lethal limits for aquatic species such as Mid-Columbia River steelhead. Many of these streams are not listed on the ODEQ database because the USFS has not submitted the data they have to ODEQ. Yet, the USFS often cites the absence of streams on the 303d list as part of their rationale for why logging adjacent to some of these same streams will not have significant impacts on water quality– even though their own data reflects stream temperature violations that would almost certainly place these streams on the 303d list.

We are especially concerned that the USFS continues to log vast tracks of public forests, including within streamside corridors (aka “Riparian Habitat Conservation Areas”) without adequate oversight, analysis, or adaptive management. In addition, stream temperature warming and de-watering of streams due to climate change are exacerbating the ecological degradation and loss of habitat caused by logging and livestock grazing.

In order for the state and agencies to develop plans to address widespread water quality violations, it is essential that they understand which streams are impaired, and the extent of water quality violations across the state. Unfortunately, the USFS has not submitted large portions of their stream monitoring data to ODEQ for the past several years.

We’re asking for your help– let ODEQ know you care about data transparency and restoration plans for streams in eastern Oregon. Let them know that its important that they include BMBP’s submission of the Forest Service’s water quality data in their call for data and upcoming assessment.  

Thank you! For the Streams and Wildlands,

Paula Hood, Co-Director
Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project