Eastern Oregon Receives $1.7 Million In Federal Groundwater Contamination Funds As State Aid Ends

Federal Groundwater Contamination Funds: At a time when municipal and state services designed to address the disaster are in disarray, the federal government is allocating $1.7 million to Eastern Oregon to deal with persistent nitrate pollution in the groundwater.

For many years, residents of Umatilla and Morrow counties have had to use bottled water due to nitrate contamination of the water supply from the Lower Umatilla Basin. Hundreds of people in northern Morrow County have had their drinking water deemed dangerous after a recent round of testing on private wells.

Eastern Oregon Receives $1.7 Million In Federal Groundwater Contamination Funds As State Aid Ends

The nitrate concentration in some homes’ water supplies was found to be four to five times higher than the EPA‘s threshold of 10 milligrams per liter. Nitrates in drinking water have been linked to a variety of health problems, including gastrointestinal cancers, gastrointestinal infections, and thyroid problems.

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U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon issued a press release saying that Congress approved $1.7 million as part of a federal funding package passed at the end of last year to identify long-term solutions to the issue, “including creating a comprehensive inventory of domestic wells and testing the wells” to determine which homes are most in need of a different water source.

Emergency manager Paul Gray of Morrow County acknowledged that the June emergency order had expired by December 31 but said the county will continue to assist households in dealing with the nitrate problem.

Eastern Oregon Receives $1.7 Million In Federal Groundwater Contamination Funds As State Aid Ends
Eastern Oregon Receives $1.7 Million In Federal Groundwater Contamination Funds As State Aid Ends

We are not passing the buck on to the state, he said. Whatever the case may be, we must continue working. This will be a problem for a very long time. We’ll be collaborating closely with the government. We’re still going to handle a good chunk of it, but now the state is on the hook for all of the expenses.

The emergency manager assured the public that the county would continue to devote its time and energy to the matter, but that the state has superior resources for doing complete testing of wells. Gray said the state could afford to test for a larger assortment of chemicals and the source of the contamination than the county did, which just tested for nitrates.

Gray drew parallels between this and the 2012 emergency response to Hurricane Sandy. Although the government responded quickly, it took years for them to do activities like rebuilding and destroying dwellings after the natural disaster. The nitrate crisis was also expected to last about as long, according to Gray.

Gray said he anticipated some of the federal cash to “trickle down” to the county, but he hadn’t heard back from state government authorities yet about the county’s involvement.

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Nitrate pollution has been a problem in the area for over 30 years. In 1990, the state designated the region as a groundwater management area, establishing a commission charged with determining the source of the nitrate contamination and proposing solutions to the problem.

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