Oregon DEQ Aquatic Life Rulemaking and the Deschutes


The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has recently released their proposed changes to the Fish and Aquatic Life Uses of Oregon's waterbodies. Some systems will be getting more stringent protections as a result of these changes, such as the Cow Creek on the South Umpqua. In very few cases, however, the recommendations would actually relax water quality standards.

The watersheds we are most concerned about loosening standards are in the Crooked River and Trout Creek, both east-side tributaries of the Deschutes River, which are proposed to move from a maximum allowable pH of 8.5 to a more alkaline 9.0. This move is concerning because higher pH is often caused by the increased nutrients from intense agricultural practices. DEQ is proposing an "action" pH value of 8.7, which, if exceeded in more than 25% of measurements between June and September, would then be investigated to determine if the cause of those measurements are natural or anthropogenic.

DEQ is justifying this change on the basis that the underlying geology of the Crooked River and Trout Creek watersheds is more similar to that of the John Day River, which has a set acceptable pH range of 6.5-9.0. However, the rest of the Deschutes watershed has a pH standard of 6.5-8.5, given that most of the Deschutes originates in the Cascades. Raising the pH maximum in the Crooked River and Trout Creek will effectively split the Deschutes watershed and potentially negatively affect water quality in the lower Deschutes.

Our concern is that by relaxing the pH standard, particularly in the Crooked River, where nutrients are already an issue, DEQ is making it more likely that water quality violations will go unaddressed for longer. This could potentially result in even higher pH values in the lower Deschutes, where elevated pH values are already a concern to fish health.

Native Fish Society will be urging DEQ to keep the pH standards in the Crooked River and Trout Creek at their current levels, and we encourage others to voice their concerns about this change as well.

Comments on the proposed changes are due by June 23, 2023 and can be submitted at this webpage. DEQ will be discussing all proposed changes to the Fish and Aquatic Life Use at their commission meeting on May 18, so please tune in to that for more information. There will also be a public hearing on June 6 at 4:00 pm. Here is the zoom link for that meeting.

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