Winston-Dillard selected for National Water Quality Initiative to improve drinking water sources

December 17, 2018

The cities of Winston and Dillard have been selected for assistance through a federal program to improve drinking water quality.

The community is one of five others in Oregon and 16 nationwide selected for the National Water Quality Initiative as part of the recent Farm Bill.

Local farmers and ranchers will be able to receive funding to implement conservation practices to reduce agricultural impacts on water quality in Lookingglass Creek — a tributary of the South Umpqua River, where the Winston-Dilard Water District draws water.

Assessments by state agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality show that human impairments to Lookingglass Creek and the South Umpqua River financially burden the water treatment plant, according to Julie Harvey, a drinking water specialist with DEQ. The community was also chosen for the program because it may not be able to implement necessary conservation practices without funding assistance, Harvey added.

Under the Clean Water Act, state agencies must monitor rivers and streams and identify parameters for which water quality doesn’t meet standards.

Lookingglass Creek exceeds standards for temperature, algae, E. coli and iron levels, according to Harvey. The stream’s water flow and surrounding habit have also been modified in a way that doesn’t meet standards.

Other parameters in the creek basin may not meet standards, but there is currently insufficient data to make definitive determination.

“In that ‘insufficient data’ category are: ammonia, phosphate, sedimentation and some various metals,” Harvey said. “All of those are related to sediment washing off properties and carrying with it those pollutants to the water.”

These impairments pose risks to key aquatic wildlife such as salmon and add treatment costs to drinking water facilities, Harvey said.

The Winston-Dillard drinking water facility serves 8,300 people, according to its website.

Aging drinking water facilities across the South Umpqua basin have long required expensive and often unaffordable upgrades to meet standards. This summer Oakland received a $1.2 million grant to from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to upgrade it’s water intake system. Extreme drought compounded with the old system making it difficult to deliver sufficient water to customers.

While the federal assistance in Winston-Dillard won’t upgrade the drinking water facility, the program’s conservation initiatives will reduce the cost of water treatment by improving environmental quality.

“Examples of conservation practices that could be implemented on farmlands include planting trees along streams and waterways to serve as natural buffers, building fences to keep cattle away from drinking water sources, installing off-channel livestock watering facilities, managing fertilizer applications, forest health practices and more,” according to the Natural Resources and Conservation District press release.

Mary Beth Smith, Oregon coordinator for the program with NRCS, said that it will be entirely up to landowners whether or not they participate in the program. The agency is not regulatory, Smith said, and therefore the program intends to attract willing participants.

She said members of the Partnership for Umpqua Rivers and the Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District have demonstrated interest in having local farmers and ranchers participate.

“It’s so valuable having voluntary conservation,” Smith said. “If you do it right you can get ahead of regulation or you can certainly minimize the need for regulation.”

She said the next steps include finalizing agreements with partner agencies and precisely identifying conservation methods that will produce the most benefit for the watershed.

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