The water system for Oceanside and Cape Meares is one of three case studies highlighted in a new report produced by Oregon State University’s Institute for Natural Resources and funded by a grant from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI), which concludes that the highest quality source water for public water providers across Oregon comes from forested watersheds, including those actively managed for timber production.
“The Trees to Tap” report is the product of two years of work by faculty from the OSU College of Forestry, who were guided by a statewide steering committee. As a companion piece, OFRI has published “Keeping Drinking Water Safe,” a publication summarizing the report’s key findings.
Mike Cloughesy, director of forestry at OFRI, said they presented the idea of a study looking into drinking water in 2018 to OFRI’s board members. The last big literature review was done in 2000.
“We had a really good base in 2000 but there was really nothing since – a lot of studies here and there – but nothing that pulled everything together,” Cloughesy said. “We asked the board if we could go talk to the dean of the college and see if this was something that OSU would be willing to take on.”
There was a lot of interest in water quality, particularly drinking water. People are worried about their drinking water, Cloughesy said. In Oregon, forested watersheds provide a lot of water. The OSU report took two and a half years of study. Cloughesy said with working with Department of Quality (DEQ), they found that 156 watersheds use forested watersheds.
The report looked at three different watersheds in Oregon: Baker City, which is on natural forestland; Ashland, in a managed forest; and Oceanside and Cape Meares.
Cloughesy said coastal systems tend to be small and landownership tends to be either state forestry or private ownership. Two companies that are forest landowners own the Oceanside and Cape Meares watershed: Stimson Lumber Co. and Green Crow Corps.
“It’s a very big contrast between Baker City, which was like a wilderness area; Ashland, which is on national forest and city property and its managed, but its managed differently because its southwest Oregon; and then Oceanside, which is in the coastal range,” Cloughesy said.
According to OFRI’s “Keeping Drinking Water Safe” case study for Oceanside and Cape Meares, the two coastal towns get their drinking water from a two-square-mile forested watershed that drains into small coastal streams west of Tillamook. Raw water is treated and supplied by the Oceanside Water District, which serves a population of 650.
The water district operates two treatment plants: one for Cape Meares and the other for Oceanside. The district has one part-time and three full-time employees and six board members. Cloughesy said the relationship between the landowners and the water district is different than larger cities.
“Everyone involved can fit in one room,” Cloughesy said.
Cloughesy said when there is logging in the coastal range, there is risk of runoff. Other concerns include landslides, application of forest chemicals and turbidity from forest operations and forest roads.
Concern of chemicals
Chemicals used are mainly herbicides to kill or slow down plant growth, Cloughesy said. Aerial spraying is used and labels for all herbicides have to be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Cloughesy said aerial spraying is very exact.
It is illegal to directly spray into the water. Water testing is conducted after aerial spraying. Cloughesy said the spray is very dilute and they time it to be effective on vegetation but not water.
The “Keeping Drinking Water Safe” report states Stimson uses an internal checklist to ensure all drinking water suppliers with intakes on its properties are notified about planned chemical applications. Stimson foresters also work with water district managers and state agencies to develop harvest plans that protect source water quality.
Risk of runoff
With 94 inches of average annual rainfall, increased turbidity in the two major creeks following seasonal storms is common. Too much sediment can clog the treatment intake system. Cloughesy said there is quite heavier runoff in the winter months. One of the things that can happen during runoff is scouring in the channel. This requires the use of sediment traps.
The road system makes all the difference when it comes to runoff, Cloughesy said. Water flowing down the road and back gets a lot of sediment. Water districts try to divert water with water bars, allowing water to soak into the forest.
Landslides are very common in the coast range. They are made worse by poor road building. A lot of the coast range can have unstable hillsides.
Cloughesy said if there is enough rain, and soil is soaked, there are going to be landslides. Roads and logging can contribute to this.
Sediments are a driver for landslides, Cloughesy said. Water quantity is another, especially when removing trees from a young forest. In the Tillamook area, any old growth is on public land. It is hard to find trees more than 70 years old here, Cloughesy said.
Chemicals and sediments are big issues for Tillamook. Present rules are quite effective compared to past practices. When you look at water quality, forestland has the best water quality in Oregon. Fire is the exception. Large fires can be bad on the water.
Cloughesy said the report had incredible support from scientists at OSU, as well as the Department of Forestry; Oregon Health Authority; water districts; landowners; and a steering committee composed of members from timber, environmental and state agencies. The study helped showcase water issues and provides valuable information that different agencies will look at for quite some time, Cloughesy said.