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Mosier situation points to critical water issues

Maintaining regional watersheds remains a critical factor when it comes to supporting Wasco County infrastructure, particularly in Mosier’s watershed.

That’s according to District Watershed Coordinator Anna Buckley, who told the Board of Commissioners March 19 about some of the biggest problems that currently inhibit the area watersheds’ efficiency and what the councils are doing to address those issues.

Wasco County watershed councils are made up of local individuals that work together to conserve the natural resources within their watershed, including volunteers that live or work in the watershed area and who represent a variety of different interests.

“Watershed maintenance has been a huge issue in the Mosier area, for example,” Buckley said. “Our focus has been on addressing ground water supply, which has seen about a 150 to 200-inch decline over the last 30 years.”

Buckley said that improperly co-mingling wells were the main source of the problem.

“Almost 80 percent of the decline is due to these co-mingling wells, and the priority areas we really need to focus on include about 150 of them,” she said.

When asked how the wells came to be so faulty, Buckley said that the very structures of Mosier’s co-mingling wells were the cause of most of the trouble.

“In Mosier, they belong to the Columbia River Basalt family, which are naturally impermeable,” she said. “This means that the water bearing zones are separated from the basalt, allowing a pathway for high pressure aquifers to create sort of a leaky bathtub system and flow right into Mosier Creek, which is the reason why we’ve seen such heavy declines over the years.”

“It’s not necessarily because we’ve had any over-extraction,” Buckley added. “No, 80 percent really is due to the wells’ faulty construction.”

Most of the wells were built in the 1970s and are very deep. As a result, in order to replenish dwindling water supplies, wells need to be dug deeper and deeper each time water runs low.

“All of the water we’re talking about here is pretty old, too.” Buckley said. “And since the entire Mosier area relies on the ground water for all their irrigation as well as all their daily water needs—it’s a big issue.”

Within the past year, Buckley reports that the Soil and Water Conservation District and they have teamed up to evaluate the existing wells on the ground and are currently in the process of developing a repair plan, but that it’s “definitely going to take a long time to get the water back up.”

When it comes to The Dalles Watershed Council in particular, Buckley said, a huge amount of effort has gone toward engaging the community and raising awareness about watershed issues in the area.

In 2013, the council coordinated a master gardener plant sale and a Creekview planting work party, followed by a riverfront work party just earlier this month.

“We’ve also been working with the city to trouble shoot the ‘mystery pipe’ contributing to the E. coli in Mill Creek, as well as restoration work regarding the Mill Creek floodplain reconnection project, with the aim to reduce flooding and improve fishing habitat.”

Buckley said the council is in the process of applying for grants from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and other potential funding sources with the goal of implementing the project in the summer of 2015.

In response to some recent changes to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board’s criteria, Buckley said the councils are in the process of developing a coordinating board that will help prioritize efforts.

“The board will include representing members from each council,” she said. “And I think it’s really going to help us communicate with each other better so that we’re all more aware of what’s going on around the county.”

To learn more about what the councils are doing to maintain area watersheds or for additional information about projects that are currently underway, visit http://wascoswcd.org/wcswcd_007.htm, or contact Buckley at anna.buckley@or.nacdnet.net or call (541) 296-6178 ext. 119.

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