People in the Northwest connect strongly with water in many different ways. Many of us grew up recreating on lakes and rivers. The Northwest has a long history of tribes and sportsmen dependent upon healthy runs of native salmon and steelhead, and families and farmers rely on dependable sources of clean, clear water for their livelihood. Our water program focuses on local communities that are struggling with the increasingly difficult problems in managing their local watersheds, and we prioritize watersheds that provide or should provide habitat for salmon and/or steelhead. Staff Attorney Chris Winter coordinates the Crag Law Center’s Water Quality & Wetland program, and all four attorneys handle work under the program.
Municipal stormwater is one of the most prevalent and least understood and regulated sources of water pollution in the United States. Here in Oregon, stormwater from the Portland metro area pollutes our local rivers with heavy metals, toxic chemicals, fecal matter, oil and grease, sediment, and pesticides that degrade habitat and bioaccumulate in the food chain. One study conducted on municipal stormwater in the Portland area suggests that discharges violate Oregon’s water quality standards more than 75% of the time for some heavy metals and other pollutants. The millions of gallons of stormwater discharged into the Columbia, Willamette and Tualatin Rivers threaten to set back salmon recovery efforts by many years.
Crag is working on behalf of the Columbia, Willamette and Tualatin Riverkeepers to protect those rivers from the impacts of municipal stormwater. Oregon DEQ issued several permits for stormwater discharges but refused to include any enforceable requirements for the protection of water quality standards and beneficial uses. In doing so, DEQ attempted to rewrite Oregon’s water pollution control laws and roll back fundamental water quality protections that have been part of Oregon state law since the late 1960s. Crag is pursuing litigation at the Oregon Court of Appeals, and through this action the Riverkeepers seek to enforce Oregon’s environmental laws.