Into the River: Samples Show
by Edward Stratton
The Port of Astoria collects effluent throughout the year for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
On a rain-soaked day in early January, the Port of Astoria's Permit and Projects Coordinator Rob Evert gathers his bottles and goes out to stock up on effluent for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Evert and other Port staff gather runoff during storm events throughout the year, send them to a third-party laboratory and relay the results to DEQ, which requires the data to ensure the Port's stormwater management system is adequate to control pollutants.
"The permit reads that it needs to be the worst possible conditions," said Evert, who finds them Jan. 5 at the edge of Pier 1, just past the log yard where Astoria Forest Products loads millions of board feet of timber onto outgoing ships using log trucks and front loaders.
Evert scrambles down a rock embankment, where he finds a plastic pipe coming out underneath Pier 1, one of four outfalls of water into the Columbia he samples along the central waterfront. The Port also monitors three outfalls at North Tongue Point.
He's doing one of the quarterly samples required for pH balance, copper, lead, zinc, iron, aluminum, oil, grease and suspended solids. The Port gathers samples eight times a year to test for cadmium, nickel and chromium; and two times per year for arsenic, insecticidal DDT, E. coli and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) often used in electrical equipment.
The consequences for missing the monitoring goals are serious. The DEQ issued the Port a civil penalty of $22,581 late last year for failing to monitor certain pollutants in the Gateway District and at North Tongue Point. The Port received a similar fine in 2013 for missing the monitoring requirements.
"It's almost a little bit of the honor system," said Evert, who sends his samples to the lab within 24 hours, and the discharge monitoring reports to DEQ. When there's an issue, he said, he goes upstream, sees if internal housekeeping at the Port can solve the issue. And if the above-average pollutant readings continue, then comes the situation the Port's in with the DEQ, creating a new stormwater treatment plan.
"With the stormwater and the industrial wastewater rules, it focuses on the aquatic life," said Evert. "What's interesting about that, for instance, is in Puget Sound, you cannot turn on the tap and discharge tap water into Puget Sound, because the water quality is not good enough.
"The permittees, the agencies, are striving toward a level of cleanliness of that water that's going back into the river, back into the Sound, back into the bay, that's better than the quality of water we're drinking. Is that reasonable? Yes. Is that realistic? Sometimes a challenge."
The Environment Protection Agency estimates that runoff from impermeable surfaces comprises 30 percent of water pollution.
"It's based on the facility, but copper and zinc are very common," said Water Quality Manager Ron Doughten with the DEQ. Copper, even at very low levels, can inhibit the ability of fish to smell and sense danger, while zinc can suffocate fish by collecting on gills. They come from various sources, including brake pads, tires, motor oil and galvanized roofing.
One of the Port's biggest sources of pollutants, like many other ports, is its boatyard. Since 1992, said Evert, there have been 38 boatyards shut down in Washington and Oregon because of stormwater regulations.
Port Commissioner Bill Hunsinger was also spot on, he added, when he talked about the 1,100 trucks per log ship adding to the problem, along with all the other vehicles regularly crisscrossing the Port's waterfront. Beyond the Port, there's runoff from the roads, roofs and other sources in the city that contribute to the Port's effluent.
An advantage of a new stormwater system DEQ recently mandated the Port create by summer 2016, Evert said, will hopefully concentrate the agency's stormwater in one outfall, which is treated before it goes into the Columbia River.
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