Throughout the process of conducting outreach in the communities within the Molalla River Drinking Water Project area, we’ve encountered some frequently asked questions which we have answered below. If you have additional questions, please view our recorded presentation and comment on our feedback page.
Providing feedback to inform the assessment and source water protection plan greatly helps us with the Molalla River Drinking Water Project by making public concerns known to the Technical Advisory Committee. This ensures we are incorporating public concerns into the prioritization framework that we develop.
In order to improve drinking water source quality, it is essential for everyone to understand their role in the watershed and that their actions on their property are critical to reducing pollutant loads that impact drinking water source quality downstream.
It is also important to share Molalla River Drinking Water Project information with neighbors or encourage them to implement conservation projects to address known issues so that they will also understand how their actions affect drinking water and what they can do to improve them.
Lastly, people can also volunteer with Molalla River Watch or other organizations like them to help plant vegetation or clean up pollution along the river.
While your domestic well may or may not be directly influenced by surface water, there may be some, especially for wells pulling from shallow aquifers close to the Molalla River and its tributaries. Also, adopting practices that improve surface water quality can also benefit groundwater quality as well.
Septic systems that leak, excess nutrients from livestock or the fertilization of agricultural crops, and chemical spills can all reach groundwater sources slowly over time or directly if there are open wellheads that are not properly protected.
While you may not drink the water in your home, municipal water is used in schools, restaurants, and to wash the produce you buy at the grocery store, and friends and relatives may live in town and be drinking water processed directly from the Molalla River.
Ensuring that the actions you take on your land don’t negatively impact the quality of water in the watershed ultimately helps ensure that people in your community have access to safe and health drinking water now and in the future.
The initial report that characterizes the watershed is available on the website: https://molallariverdrinkingwater.com/assessment/draft-assessment/. The second report providing further detail about pollutants will arrive sometime in June. The source water protection plan will arrive sometime in fall.
Submitting a comment and providing your contact information on the “Provide Feedback” tab of the project website would be the easiest and most direct way to receive updates. We’ll also be posting updates on the “News and Events” tab of the project website: http://molallariverdrinkingwater.com
This is the largest challenge we face with this project. Whether anything happens as a result of this plan will largely depend on community members’ willingness to make changes necessary to reduce their impacts on drinking water, and to do so at a scale that results in measurable positive impact.
The plan lays the foundation for us to bring in resources to address issues, but the key will be engaging the community, agencies, and regulators to work together to make the necessary changes. Clackamas SWCD will use this plan to encourage funders to invest in Molalla River watershed projects that will result in improved drinking water source quality.
Clackamas SWCD has always worked in a non-regulatory capacity to assist landowners in the adoption of conservation practices. The voluntary approach allows people to have more input in the decision making around the changes that are made on the land. Once regulation comes in, there are often mandates that require landowners to solve issues in specific ways that may not be desirable, and these mandates come with no financial assistance to implement them. Clackamas SWCD hopes this approach reduces the likelihood of regulation and helps to ease the transition to conservation driven solutions by reducing the upfront cost to make those changes.
This project is the result of a grant from Natural Resources Conservation Service and this is the first phase where the watershed is assessed not only in terms of water quality, but also in terms of readiness to implement the changes that are identified in the plan.
If we can’t show that there are landowners ready and willing to implement projects, they will invest their implementation dollars in other regions of the country that prove they are ready.
Our use of the term “high quality” drinking water references water that is straightforward to treat and doesn’t have issues with quality at the tap as measured by a number of water quality standards.
There may be emerging pollutants (for example, pharmaceuticals), but at this time there are not standards by which to evaluate them, and there may not be ways to treat for them. The standards are the measurement of whether the water is drinkable.
Other systems have poorer water quality than the Molalla entering the intake, and those systems are treating at a much higher level and at higher costs than are being observed in Canby and Molalla. Taste and odor are separate from that and are perception issues that are often unpleasant, but not issues for health.
We are going to try and identify this with existing data. This project is not focused on collecting new data. Reasonably good data is available for various aspects of the Molalla River, but there are gaps where data is poor or outdated, and some areas where data is not available at all.
In these areas we’ll have to imply through the evaluation what is happening related to water quality. One outcome to expect from this effort is a monitoring and study plan that will identify data needs to better understand the system.
There is a gauge above the City of Canby where there is consistent and continual data. The municipalities are able to collect frequently updated raw water data at the drinking water intakes. Adjacent watersheds (such as the Clackamas River) have been studied for pesticides or other issues and we’ve extrapolated findings from those studies to the Molalla River watershed for similar land uses. Otherwise, data ranges from recent to 15+ years old.
Industrial impacts are listed under the urban land use in the constituents section.
It appears that the unpalatable drinking water you are experiencing is from compounds released from algal blooms in the Molalla River and not from City of Molalla treated wastewater discharges.
The City of Canby drinking water taste and odor issues began in around 2009. The issue is most pronounced in the summer months when the water takes on a “musty” odor. The City hired consultants that studied the issue and concluded that the odor is caused by Molalla River algal blooms.
The algal blooms release compounds in the water – methylisoborneal (MIB) and/or geosmin – that create the odor. These compounds are very difficult to remove from drinking water. The algal blooms are worse during summer periods when the river’s flow is low and water temperatures are high. The frequency of the summer algal blooms appears to be increasing.
Around the same period when Canby began to notice the drinking water odor problem, the City of Molalla began to release treated wastewater into the Molalla River. In 2006, the City of Molalla relocated its treated wastewater outfall to the Molalla River at approximately River Mile (RM) 20.
Molalla’s treated wastewater discharge is only permitted in the winter months (November 1 to April 30) and discharge during the summer months (May 1 – October 31) is not allowed by the City’s permit. However, during the summer months, because of wastewater system capacity limitations, the City is often forced to discharge treated effluent to the Molalla River. While these discharges are in violation of the City’s permit, they are communicating with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality prior to releasing water.
Also, we have not found evidence that these discharges are contributing to Canby’s drinking water odor issues. Canby is notified when there are wastewater releases during the summer months, continuously tests the water at its intake, and has not found any detectable changes in water quality associated with the City of Molalla’s treated wastewater discharges during the summer months.
We are working to create a wide ranging assessment and plan that addresses concerns across a wide range of issues, and the City of Molalla treated wastewater discharge is certainly one of the concerns that will be identified in the plan.
We know that City of Molalla and Department of Environmental Quality are communicating regarding this issue. However, because the discharge is a regulatory issue, its resolution will ultimately happen outside of the scope of this project.
While we aren’t involved in the regulatory realm, we are not indifferent to concerns about this issue and will communicate to the Technical Advisory Committee and in the plan that this is an item that will need to be addressed if the community is to feel confident about the quality of drinking water coming from the Molalla River.
The biggest factor in the rate of algae growth is water temperature, so vegetative shading along tributaries and the main stem Molalla River will be important practices to reduce solar heating through shading. Also, we’ll explore suggestions for increasing water flow in the Molalla through improved irrigation efficiency or other creative means. Lastly, reducing nutrient loads from manure or fertilizer runoff in the system will also help to reduce algae presence in the system.
Solving the algae issue is going to be a challenge with climate change and further pressure on the system. The occurrence of this issue is steadily increasing not only in Oregon rivers and streams, but across the nation and other parts of the world. It’s going to take a significant effort to reverse this trend.
We are not aware of the solution at this point, but will summarize what plans they may have in the report.
The drinking water intake is above the treated wastewater discharge. Generalized maps will be included in the final report.
We will look into whether Molalla has storage or mixing options to mitigate high turbidity events that we might expect in something like a catastrophic wildfire or other large slope stability failure. They probably have some limited reservoir for small windows of turbidity, but larger events would require larger reservoirs or the ability to treat the water.
The Technical Advisory Committee, which has representatives from Oregon Department of Forestry, will discuss water quality effects from catastrophic wildfire to identify methods to address them. Also, rural fires adjacent to rivers and forests are a risk that will be addressed in the plan.