County’s Plan for Groundwater Contaminants Won’t Help the Community

March 1, 2016 – Bend, OR – Central Oregon LandWatch filed an appeal of Deschutes County’s adoption of a broad-stroke blanket exception to statewide planning Goal 11 on Tuesday.  The public interest group believes the County’s overreaching proposal to allow sewers in rural southern Deschutes County would not solve public health or environmental issues South Deschutes County faces, and instead might make matters worse.

Due to high water tables in southern Deschutes County, nitrates (leaked from septic systems and other sources) have been found in some of the groundwater in the area.  To address this problem, the County has proposed a blanket exception to Goal 11, which would allow sewer systems to be built in all unincorporated areas without regard to need or impact on existing residents.

“We are in favor of effective programs to deal with any water quality issues in southern Deschutes County,” said LandWatch Executive Director, Paul Dewey.  “However, in this case, the solution is worse than the problem itself.  The County’s plan is unfair and unnecessary because it focuses on  new development and doesn’t address the existing community’s needs.”  

People who live in southern Deschutes County are not happy about the proposal, and the Deschutes County Citizen’s Action Group opposed the County’s plan.  John Huddle, the chair of that group, is concerned about the “gentrification” of southern Deschutes County.  “If developers are allowed to build sewers in our community through a blanket exception, there would be an influx of new housing development and that has the potential to push low-income residents out of the area,” he said.  “The County also suggests there is a problem everywhere, which is not correct.”

Instead of solving public health problems, the Goal 11 exception could exacerbate them.  The County’s proposal makes a broad, sweeping generalization of conditions across an entire area, rather than identifying where the problems are.  Allowing sewers across this whole area would open up more lands to new development, which could disrupt the natural filtering process those lands have provided.

“What’s needed is not a one-size-fits-all solution that may make any problem worse.  We need to scientifically identify where any specific problems are, provide needed funding and fix them,” said Paul Dewey.  “We support the Deschutes County Citizen’s Action Group’s efforts in the Legislature to fund OSU’s Institute of Water and Watersheds to conduct research on groundwater in the area.”