DEQ needs $1.2 billion to repair Willamette Basin

DEQ Report Concludes Up to $1.2 Billion Needed to Restore Streamside Vegetation, Improve Habitat in Willamette Basin
Dept. of Environmental Quality

A recently released report from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, completed as part of a federal watershed needs survey, estimates that it could cost up to $1.2 billion to restore streamside vegetation and improve streamside habitat from pollution caused by agriculture and other activities throughout the Willamette basin.

DEQ’s report, “Cost Estimate to Restore Riparian Forest Buffers and Improve Stream Habitat in the Willamette Basin, Oregon” is accessible on DEQ’s website at  DEQ produced the report for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2008 Clean Watersheds Needs Survey. EPA conducts the survey, which is part of federal Clean Water Act requirements, to help the federal government collect data about capital needs and costs to meet the act’s water quality goals

DEQ water quality analyst Ryan Michie, the report’s author, says cost estimates on streamside vegetation and habitat improvements in the Willamette basin should provide a focus point for further discussion among interested parties on how – and how much of – this work could be funded.

“This report will contribute to Willamette basin restoration planning efforts for DEQ and others interested in improving the basin’s water quality,” said Michie.

For the first time, DEQ’s cost estimate report to EPA includes estimated costs of restoring streamside vegetation and habitat from pollution caused by “nonpoint” sources such as farming, forestry and urban activities. Nonpoint source activities that result in the loss of streamside vegetation contribute to sediment discharging into streams, increased stream temperatures and diminished aquatic habitat.

The report breaks down the number of acres and cost by municipalities, agencies and various land ownerships. It estimates the number of acres and total cost to:

·         Restore stream vegetation removed by agricultural and other activities
·         Improve in-stream habitat
·         Construct fencing to protect streamside plantings
·         Pay landowners incentives and a modest rent for use of their land for restoration.

The cost estimate report also builds upon DEQ’s 2009 “Willamette Basin Rivers and Streams Assessment Report,” which concluded that more than 80 percent of agricultural and urban lands in the Willamette basin have impaired biological conditions, and that warm water temperature was the most extensive water quality impairment in the basin. The assessment, which is at, drew upon data collected from six different organizations in 15 different studies.

The just-released cost estimate report makes the following conclusions:

·         About 96,000 acres may need to be restored in the Willamette basin. About 70 percent of those acres are on agricultural lands.

·         Accounting for uncertainties, the total cost of restoration work in the basin could range from $593 million to $1.2 billion. This cost includes actual restoration work and 15 years of incentive and rental payments to landowners to help for use of their land.

·         About 75 percent of the total cost is related to restoration on agricultural lands, while 15 percent is related to restoration inside urban growth boundaries.

Michie noted that DEQ does not endorse any one form of achieving stream habitat and vegetation restoration. It used a land rental agreement model in its report because data on leasing land is readily available. DEQ supports a wide variety of programs or solutions that will improve water quality, not just the land rental model.

DEQ determined restoration needs for streamside vegetation by analyzing satellite images of vegetation produced by the U.S. Geological Survey. It determined the amount of needed habitat improvements by drawing on data from DEQ’s Willamette Basin Rivers and Streams Assessment, which rated streambed conditions at 246 sites in the basin. The amount of needed habitat improvement is based on the percentage of stream miles in urban, agricultural and forestry land-use categories that were rated as having “poor” streambed stability – as opposed to those rated as “fair” or “good.”

DEQ’s cost estimate report, along with other information, helps EPA determine Oregon’s need for water quality improvement projects funded through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. Through a formula outlined in the Clean Water Act, EPA determines allocation of State Revolving Fund amounts for states. Congress determines the actual State Revolving Fund dollar amounts allocated to states in the annual budget it authorizes for EPA.

In 2009, Oregon received $7.66 million in federal monies for State Revolving Fund projects – not including projects funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds. DEQ, under the State Revolving Fund, allocates several loans annually to communities, sanitary districts and other agencies to help finance water quality improvements. From 2004 to 2008, the city of Portland spent $2.3 million in State Revolving Fund monies restoring habitat and vegetation of streamside areas of the lower Willamette and local tributaries.

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