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Oregon County Proposes Rules to Protect Drinking Water

(Beyond Pesticides, October 27, 2010) Proposed land use rules aimed to protect drinking-water sources from contaminated runoff and to improve floodplain regulation are under consideration by Lane County Board of Commissioners of Lane County, Oregon. The proposed rules would restrict fertilizer runoff and herbicide spraying near drinking-water sources.

The draft ‘Drinking Water Protection Zone,’ which would restrict hazardous materials entering sources of drinking including nitrogen and phosphate-based fertilizers, paint, oils and fuels, wood preservatives, solvents among others. Utilities and public-water operators asked the county in 2008 to strengthen drinking-water protections by restricting development and other activity that could contaminate the water supply, upset riverbanks or affect the filtering functions of wooded streamside areas. In a report to the board, county staff said the drinking-water rules “are being proposed to reduce the possible health and safety risks associated with …contamination of sources public drinking water.” Reducing fertilizers can have the added benefit of reducing the levels of pesticides that runoff into lakes and streams as well, as many pesticide products are formulated with both fertilizers and herbicides.

The recommendations call for a 200-foot buffer around streams, rivers and lakes that provide public drinking water. That’s up from the current 50-foot setback for residential, commercial and industrial land and a 100-foot setback for farm and forest land. Current lawn care and landscaping could be maintained, but new removal or destruction of additional areas of vegetation through means such as thinning, cutting or applying herbicides would be barred. A number of public and municipal water utilities draw their supplies from local rivers, especially the McKenzie and the Willamette. The rules would protect those rivers, as well as tributaries that feed into them, so the amount of affected property is significant.

Recent U.S. Geological Survey data have found that U.S. waterways are contaminated with toxic substances including fertilizers, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other industrial chemicals. Chemicals, even those detected at low-levels, are increasingly being linked to serious health and developmental effects, well below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standards and levels of concern. Nitrates are the most common inorganic contaminant derived from man-made sources, such as from fertilizer applications and septic-tanks. Studies show that the occurrence of selected contaminants varies across the country, often following distinct geographic patterns related to geology, geochemical conditions, and land use. These contaminants have been linked to hormone disruption, birth defects, developmental/reproductive effects and even cancer. The Pesticide Induced Disease Database provides more information on the link between chemical exposure and diseases. Also read Beyond Pesticides’ “Threatened Waters” for more information on drinking water and contaminants found in drinking water.

Lane County Planning Commissioner and the Lane County Board of Commissioners convened a public hearing to determine if proposed changes to the County’s floodplain regulations should be approved, modified or denied. The Board discussed whether or not to adopt a new set of zoning regulations intended to protect sources of public drinking water.

Opponents to the proposal claim that they will be unable to remove vegetation, to garden in those riverfront areas, or to rebuild close to the river. They say property values could drop due to river views overgrown with brush and trees, and limitations on development of homes, septic tanks and grading. Some of these concerns can be addressed through organic and other green management practices which are currently being employed by homeowners and communities around the country, including organic turf management and gardening, as well as using goats to clear brush and restore land. Many clean water advocates say limiting waterfront development by property owners is often necessary to protect everyone’s right to clean water.

Source: The Register-Guard and Lane County Oregon News Release


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