Colorful Cuthbert Cleanup Quandary

From Life in Color to Run or Dye and Color Me Rad, getting blasted with gouts of bright color has become part of the joy of dancing and fun runs. Fun runs have been criticized for misappropriating the Hindu festival of Holi on which they are based, and more recently there have been concerns about the massive amounts of nontoxic paint blasted at the Cuthbert Amphitheater at Life in Color Oct. 4.

Life in Color features DJs spinning electronic dance music (EDM), paint blasting from cannons and sheet cake being thrown at the revelers, who dress in white and get splattered with bright day-glo colors.

The Cuthbert sits close to the Alton Baker Canoe Canal, which feeds into the Willamette River. Last weekend’s show was the third time Life in Color has come to the Cuthbert, and before the show Doug Quirke of the Clean Water Action Project (OCWAP) was contacted with concerns about the paint mixture getting into the river in previous years. OCWAP is a watchdog organization that often works with Willamette Riverkeeper to protect area waterways.

Quirke and EW were told that the paint from previous shows was hosed off and presumably flowed downhill into the slough and then into the Willamette River.

Quirke contacted the city of Eugene and received a message from Theresa Sizemore, who told him the paint was considered benign, and that she didn’t have any reports on the paint being hosed into the canal. She speculated that what the observer might have seen was the paint being hosed into the discharge point where it would be pumped out later. If any did get into the river, Sizemore said, “People can swallow this and be perfectly fine.”

Quirke says that “a substance that can be safely ingested by humans is a pollutant when discharged to waterways, and its effects on aquatic ecosystems are not necessarily benign.” He adds, “The Clean Water Act prohibits all unpermitted discharges from point sources to water.”

Brendan Relaford of Kesey Enterprises, which puts on the shows at the Cuthbert, says, “As the contracted concessionaire of the venue, we have a sense of responsibility for the environmental welfare of the surrounding areas related to show influences, (litter, etc. — including paint).”

Relaford says he provided an abatement and cleanup procedure to every city department that asked for one, including Parks and Open Space, Public Works, Cultural Services and Waste Water Management, and “the plan has been met with no objections.”

The abatement plan shows the Cuthbert draining into two discharge points near the canal where there are sunken catch basins, and it says, “The discharge is filtered through river rock bed to prevent erosion of the canal bank.” The catch basins are dammed at two points, “one as a debris catch and the other at the discharge point.” According to the plan, the wastewater is collected in gray water holding tanks and then taken to a wastewater facility for disposal.

Quirke says the plan looks good, “if that’s how things were handled this year.” He says, “We need to make sure we leave Red Fish Blue Fish to Dr. Suess, and avoid having it play out in our waterways.”