DeFazio Bill Bad For Clean Water?

Clean drinking water is a logging issue in Oregon, where so many of our watersheds are on forest lands. In the furor over the DeFazio forest bill — or more properly the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act — river advocates say that the need to protect water for fish, wildlife and humans gets lost as people argue over county payments, timber jobs and board feet.

John Kober of the Pacific Rivers Council says, “We haven’t seen a real brass tacks look into what does this mean for water, clean drinking water in particular, if our lands are harvested at the level at which [Congressman Peter] DeFazio is proposing.”

DeFazio and Reps. Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader’s bill, which would split Oregon’s 2.4 million acres of federal O&C forests into a conservation trust and a timber trust, has generated controversy since its inception. Logging the O&C lands has historically been a source of county funding, but the lands are also the source of drinking water and a haven for wildlife. The bill passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee July 31. It is part of a larger piece of forest legislation offered by Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, but is under a separate title.

Chandra LeGue of Oregon Wild calls the Hastings bill “the worst environmental bill we’ve seen in a generation.” She adds, “Peter didn’t like the Hastings bill, but that didn’t stop him from voting for it.”

LeGue shares Kober’s concerns about the lack of protection for streams under the proposal, which calls for using weaker state rather than federal environmental laws on the federal lands. “It’s still public land but federal laws not applying just seems wrong,” she says.

Under the House version of the bill, federal laws and protections under the Northwest Forest Plan would not be used; instead the lands would be logged under the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA) that allows for pesticide use and has no stream buffers for nonfish-bearing streams — which still produce drinking water. Protection for fish-bearing streams would be cut in half.

The protection for streams has actually increased since an earlier draft of the bill. DeFazio said in a July 30 press release that in response to comments and recommendations from Gov. Kitzhaber’s task force, “several changes have been made to better protect Oregonians’ drinking water and fish-bearing streams.”

But clean water advocates say that’s not enough. David Moryc of American Rivers says that Eugene and Springfield residents are among the “1.8 million people who derive their drinking water from O&C lands.” He says that 81 drinking water providers get their water from these forests. Those providers face dealing with water that would be more turbid (full of sediments), warmer and possibly full of pesticides, he says.

DEQ maps showing sensitive lands also show some of the logging would be on steep slopes, Moryc says, and landslides on those slopes would affect water quality and increase costs for downstream users.

Add turbidity from road building and the fact the private lands logging “has virtually no protections for clean water,” and Kober says the O&C bill would add to the harm done to Oregon water, rather than benefit it the way federal forests should.

Sen. Ron Wyden is expected to introduce a Senate version of the bill “at the end of the summer,” his spokesperson Tom Towslee says, which according to Towslee is around Sept. 21. He says, “Of course people are always concerned about clean water and fish buffer zones,” and adds that the bill is still in process.

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