DEQ fines Hood River $2,380 for wastewater violations

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued a $2,380 civil penalty to the City of Hood River for violating environmental standards at its municipal wastewater treatment plant.

DEQ said the plant’s treated discharge, which flows into the Columbia River near the Hook, exceeded permitted limits for oxygen demand and solid sewage earlier this year. The standards are designed to safeguard the river from pollution.

“The limits are in place to protect fish and other aquatic life from pollution and to protect water bodies for other beneficial uses,” the agency explained in a written statement.

A contracted business, CH2M, runs Hood River’s plant at 818 Riverside Drive. Staff at the plant, which monitors its own water quality levels, reported the violations to DEQ this summer.

The city intends to pay the fine, with no legal challenge.

“Even though it’s a small fine, the City of Hood River as well as CH2M take this very seriously,” City Public Works Director Mark Lago said.

It was the first time in recent memory that the plant had gone beyond allowed levels, he said.

The plant operates under a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, which sets limits for average concentrations of oxygen and solids standards.

In May, the facility released treated fluid (effluent) with a monthly biochemical oxygen demand of 26 mg/L, which is 30 percent more than allowed under its permit. BOD is a measure of water quality affecting river organisms’ ability to breathe.

The city also discharged water in May that broke limits for total suspended solids, which is a measure of solid particles that can be trapped by a filter.

“It’s a very small amount,” Lago said of the over-limit results.

The causes, he explained, included weather and technical malfunctions. Rains in May flushed an unexpected amount of groundwater into the plant for treatment, during a season with more stringent DEQ standards. On another case, issues cropped up with a blower, or tank system.

The problems weren’t related to the June train derailment in Mosier, which prompted Hood River to temporarily accept extra sewage from that community after Mosier’s system was knocked offline by an oil spill. Union Pacific Railroad has since compensated the city $36,000 for treating Mosier’s waste.

Carl Nadler, water quality permit writer for Oregon DEQ, said the rule that triggered the penalty against Hood River is usually intended to catch repeat offenders. However, the city has been cooperative in fixing its errors.

“I think the rule is made to catch violators who have a persistent problem that needs correcting. In this case it was several problems … here, the city has corrected every one of those violations, but they got caught in the net,” Nadler said.

“My experience with Hood River is they’re pretty serious about following their (water quality standards).”

In addition to small operational changes, the city is planning upgrades at the plant to modernize some of its equipment. The plant has been running since the 1970s, and the last substantial upgrade was in 2001. A pending sanitary sewer master plan calls for another round of improvements.

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