On Friday(April 7, 2023), Governor Tina Kotek reaffirmed her commitment to coordinating an inter-agency response to ongoing groundwater contamination in the Lower Umatilla Basin, which will involve testing and treating affected wells, seeking a contract with a local community-based organization to engage in this effort, and devoting a project manager to support safe drinking water.
“Every Oregonian should have safe, healthy drinking water. The water contamination experienced in Morrow and Umatilla counties is unacceptable and must be fixed,” Kotek said in a news release, which continues in full below:
“Residents need to be aware of the danger posed by nitrates and have immediate access to well testing and clean drinking water while we work towards longer-term solutions.”
In preparation for the Governor’s upcoming visits to Umatilla and Morrow counties, representatives of the Governor’s Office spent this week inspecting affected home locations and engaging with community leaders, local elected leaders, and public health experts in both counties.
To speed up free testing of domestic wells, the Governor’s Office has been meeting with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS), the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), and other state and local agencies and community leaders since January.
This cross-departmental effort will be headed by a designated OHA project manager under Governor Kotek’s instruction. Thanks to a public education and outreach effort, every household well owner in the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area will be made aware of the dangers of drinking water contaminated with nitrates.
Where possible and practical, water delivery and in-home filtration equipment will be provided to homes whose tap water tests positive for nitrates while more permanent solutions are devised.
The Governor’s Office is also attempting to secure a contract with a local community-based group to aid in the provision of water testing and treatment to affected areas. Further attempts will be made to recruit community groups not already involved in the effort.
There is a long-term need for groundwater aquifer rehabilitation, and Governor Kotek intends to collaborate with the EPA, DEQ, ODA, and residents to meet that need.
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“I want residents who have been impacted by this water contamination to know that we are working with urgency to deliver solutions,” Governor Kotek said.
“The state’s coordinated response must meet the needs of the families on the ground. In addition to my staff’s hard work over the past several months, I look forward to personally meeting with community members in Umatilla and Morrow counties in the weeks ahead.”
If you live in the impacted area, you may be tested by calling your county public health department or by going to the OHA Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area Testing and Treatment website.