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Herbicide spilled near Deschutes

A vegetation spraying company accidentally dumped between 20 to 30 gallons of Round Up on asphalt and dirt at Deschutes River State Recreation Area on the morning of Saturday, April 26.

None of the herbicide got into the river, said Jim Anderson, park manager. He said it was “the first and only spill” he’s seen in his 20-plus years as park ranger.

He said it was a minor event. “If that’s the only trouble I have this year, I’ve got it made.”

Anderson wasn’t expecting the pair of workers from RSI Vegetation Management in Zillah, Wash., to show up on Saturday and start pumping water from the Deschutes to dilute their concentrate of Round Up, an herbicide. Their company provides vegetation control for Union Pacific Santa Fe.

But as soon as he learned about the spill from the workers, he initiated a spill response protocol, which included calling 911 and hazmat responders.

Rather than use the busy boat ramp at Heritage Landing, the workers went to the nearby raft takeout area. They were about done pumping water from the river into their tanks when they got too full and briefly overflowed.

Jason Rumble, general manager of RSI, said the pump they were using to suck water out of the river can pump 150 gallons a minute, and when they saw liquid start to splash out of the overflow valve in their tank, they stopped as quickly as they could.

Anderson said the couple told him, “It happened so fast.”

Anderson said he was troubled that the couple didn’t have a permit to pump from the river and didn’t tell him of their plans.

Rumble said he’d never heard of needing a permit, and to his knowledge, his company had never gotten water from Deschutes State Park.

Rumble said crews usually get water from fire hydrants, creeks or river, whatever is closest and easily accessible, “and there’s never a problem with that.”

He said the crew was doing what it would normally do. “It just so happened to not be the place to be.”

Anderson said the park has water tanks that they could’ve gotten water from, if they had only asked.

He said the only other entities that pump from the river are usually fire responders or the Oregon Department of Transportation, who both get permits. The permit process is complex, he said, since the river has anadromous, or migrating, fish.

Anderson closed the raft take out and still had it closed Tuesday morning. He was awaiting word from the state Department of Environmental Quality on reopening it.

He said it hadn’t been a very busy day for rafting.

The RSI workers quickly got to work putting down absorbent pads to soak up the spill, which was on a section of asphalt that tilted away from the river, Anderson said. He estimated it spilled 20 to 30 feet from the river.

The Department of Environmental Quality arrived and assisted with cleanup, which including removing four drums of contaminated dirt, said Mike Renz, who handles spill responses in this region for the DEQ.

In all, cleanup took about six hours, Anderson said.

Renz said the DEQ will not pursue any violations against the company, and has turned the matter over to the state Department of Agriculture. An official with the Department of Agriculture could not be reached for comment. Rumble, however, said he heard from the Department of Agriculture that “everything was good to go. Our penalty was having to clean it up.”

Greg Svelund, a spokesperson for the DEQ, said the DEQ did not pursue violations because the spill didn’t meet the threshold criteria, which include spills into a waterway, or a spill greater than 25 gallons.

Anderson said the RSI workers “were doing about everything wrong you could do.” They were blocking the road with their vehicle, and were also on a slant, which kept them from seeing how full their tanks were becoming.

But Anderson was relieved that the spill was minor. He said the workers had never had a spill before either and were frantic to get it clean. “They were very cooperative,” he said. “I even told their boss that they did the best they could and we weren’t going to seek any retribution on our end.”

He just wanted to be sure that the next time they needed some water, “let’s get it appropriately.”

The asphalt where the spill occurred is “a little white” from the chemical and absorbent material, but Anderson expects that to wear off.

Rumble said spraying crews spray twice a year – in the spring to kill seedlings and in August to kill noxious weeds.

A crew, driving a semi-type truck that sprays herbicide out of both sides of the vehicle, can cover 100 miles of track in a day. Vegetation needs to be kept away from tracks to prevent sparks from trains from igniting vegetation. Vegetation on the tracks can also cause train wheels to slip.


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