History, challenges of Clean Water Services little understood
Replacing Bill Gaffi and his acquired knowledge will be a challenge as discussed in the May 3 Times article ("New general manager sought for clean water agency"). Not only will the new general manager have a steep learning curve about the past, the new manager has an exceptional challenge to come up to speed on the various issues currently facing Clean Water Services (CWS).
The all-too-brief history of CWS described in the May 3 article in The Times is incomplete at best. While the May 3 statement is true that the voters in the new Unified Sewerage Agency (USA) approved a $36 million bond to upgrade USA's facilities, the need and process leading to that vote is glossed over. Briefly, the Oregon State Sanitary Authority (OSSA) was the first agency in Oregon charged with protecting the environment. In 1938, Oregon voters, by a three-to-one margin, approved a much-needed initiative to regulate water pollution. In the late 1960s Tom McCall, the OSSA chairman, ordered the temporary closure of four sulfite mills along the Willamette River. In 1969 the OSSA was replaced by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). DEQ placed a temporary halt to new construction in Washington County in 1970.
In 1989, water quality standards were set for ammonia and phosphorous in the Tualatin River by DEQ and approved by EPA. Following a long series of law suits and decrees, the USA achieved waste load allocations (i.e., numeric standards) for treatment plants. However a resulting non-point (e.g., agriculture and road run off) compliance order from DEQ did not include a requirement for regulating water quality of storm water (i.e., waste load allocations) going into sewers and natural habitats.
Bill Gaffi and others at CWS walked a delicate line between developers, agencies and environmental groups to address non-point compliance in a permit(s) for the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4). CWS worked and continues to inform interested parties that MS4 is not always just a system of underground pipes. It can include roads with drainage systems, roof gutters, and ditches. As a result, new construction developments have many innovations to reduce the impact of storm water and are collectively referred to as Low Impact Development Approaches (LIDA).
As good as the CWS LIDA Handbook is for new development, it does not explicitly address past development approaches that have left a series of historic liabilities due to inadequate storm water treatment designs. For example, the City of Tigard has said it has approximately $40 million of liability related to past storm water danger to the built environment. In addition, an unknown liability exists for the natural environment due to past inadequate storm water treatment. For example, massive erosion has recently occurred in Cook Park near the volley ball courts. This erosion, in plain sight, has been temporarily mitigated with a set of pipes but the danger of a deep vertical mini-canyon to people and the natural environment have yet to be dealt with. Unfortunately, the Cook Park erosion is one of several dozens of equally dramatic impacts that are out of sight to most.
It is my understanding that the most recent MS4 Permit obtained by CWS not only outlines the need for LIDA in new developments, it also outlines the need to address past and ongoing impacts to the natural environment due to inadequate storm water treatment. One can only hope that Bill Gaffi will consider "shallow" retirement and make himself available to the new CWS general manager and new county commissioners to navigate the challenges that lay ahead in storm water management.
Paul Whitney, Ph.D., is a resident of Tigard.