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DEQ details water quality study

Eric Nigg, Aaron Borisenko, Paige Evans, and Smita Mehta of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) attended the Oct. 18 regular meeting of the Harney County Court to discuss a groundwater quality study.

Nigg explained that the study will monitor groundwater wells in Harney County to characterize water quality, adding that participation in the study will be voluntary. Data collected during the study will appear in a publicly available database, but names and addresses will not be associated with it.

Borisenko provided the court with an overview of the statewide groundwater monitoring program, explaining that the goal is to identify where data collection hasn’t been done and where it may need to be done in the future.

He said Harney County is one of the areas that DEQ would like to study, and the department hopes to collaborate with Oregon Water Resources Department’s (OWRD’s) and Harney County Watershed Council’s ongoing efforts.

He reemphasized that participation in the study is voluntary, adding that participants will receive a complete dataset regarding the quality of their well water.

Evans said well owners will receive the results of their bacteria tests within 24-48 hours and a full homeowner report when lab results are finalized. They’ll be notified immediately if concerning contaminants (such as nitrate, arsenic, and lead) are detected that are above the drinking water standards.

About 60 wells will be sampled in the winter, and 60 wells will be sampled in the fall. Some wells will be sampled during both periods.

Once all sampling is complete, data will be summarized and evaluated to determine whether there are any trends or correlations with the aquifers.

Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens asked, “What is the end goal for the study?”

Borisenko replied that one goal is to inform domestic well owners about the water that they may be consuming. He said another goal is to determine whether there are larger issues and whether there’s interest in taking action.

He added that Groundwater Management Areas may be established if an areawide contamination is discovered.

However, Nigg said, “The consequence of a Groundwater Management Area really is more study. It is not a regulation of the groundwater in that area.”

Owens asked whether detection of a naturally occurring element could result in regulation.

“There certainly isn’t a precedent for that, and I don’t believe the rules lead us there,” Nigg replied.

Owens noted that ongoing community-based planning efforts will focus on water quality as well as quantity, and the effort could be linked to the DEQ study.

Mehta noted that the water quality study could support the ongoing groundwater study.

“The chemistry of the water can reveal the sources and pathways of the groundwater and maybe help define where the aquifers are,” she said.

“This is an opportunity to do something fairly comprehensive with groundwater in this area, and it’s funded,” Nigg added. “We can do this now. In a year or two, we don’t know what we will have. So we’re geared up and ready to go, and we can add that piece to this comprehensive understanding of the area.”

For additional information regarding the groundwater quality study, call 503-693-5736 or email


Racquel Rancier of OWRD attended the meeting to brief the court regarding the 2017 legislative session.

She discussed the bills that the department had passed and the OWRD budget. She also provided a preview of the 2019 legislative session.


Steve Beverlin, forest supervisor for the Malheur National Forest, and Christy Cheyne, Emigrant Creek District Ranger, attended the meeting to discuss travel management planning on the Malheur National Forest.

Published by the U.S. Forest Service in November 2005, the Final Travel Management Rule directs all national forests to designate a system of roads, trails, and areas for motorized vehicle use.

“Every forest in the United States has to do this process, and there are two forests left in the entire United States — the Malheur National Forest and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest,” Beverlin said.

He explained that travel management planning is broken into three parts — Subpart A, Subpart B, and Subpart C.

Subpart A is the minimum road system analysis.

“These are the roads we think we need to manage the forest and to provide for the public’s enjoyment,” Beverlin said. “It’s not a decision. It’s just kind of a draft.”

Draft Baseline Open Transportation System maps can be found on the Malheur National Forest’s website at 

Subpart C designates over-the-snow areas for snow machine use.

Beverlin said Forest Service staff worked with snowmobile clubs in Harney and Grant counties to develop a draft, and a decision has yet to be made.

Subpart B is the over-the-ground designation of roads, trails, and areas for motorized use.

Beverlin said this will be a forest-wide effort that will require a forest-wide Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The formal EIS process will begin in the spring of 2018.

“My thought is to have a lot of public meetings before we even get into the formal process,” Beverlin said, emphasizing that numerous meetings will be held in Grant and Harney counties.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Public Affairs Specialist Tara Thissell asked whether the Forest Service would work with the BLM on Subpart B.

She said, “We have roads that go straight from Forest Service straight onto the BLM.”

Beverlin suggested that Forest Service and BLM geographic information system (GIS) staff work together.

Regarding Subpart B, Beverlin said, “It’s been really controversial, at least to the north of here, and I know there’s going to be a lot of interest here because folks want to maintain their access on the forest, and we want people to get to where they want to go.”

He added that this is “kind of an early, early early, early alert.”


In other business, the court:

• continued its conversation concerning flooding in Harney County.

Runnels reported that vegetation is being removed from the river between Highway 20 and Highway 78.

Owens added that a letter will be sent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regarding the agency’s calculations for a 100-year event.

“We don’t agree with their science,” he said. “Our goal, as a community, is to get the best quality map out as fast as we can.”

Owens also discussed an ongoing effort to obtain a grant for a feasibility study on the dike and develop a holistic view of the system.

He said insurance options are also being explored.

The next meeting regarding flooding will be held Nov. 20 at 10 a.m. at the courthouse;

• received a Treasure Valley Community College (TVCC) budget presentation/service agreement from Lisa Moody of the Harney County Outreach Center.

Moody stated that 24 regular students, three high school students from the charter school, five high school students from Crane Union High School, four high school students from Burns High School, and nine Oregon Youth Authority students are currently taking TVCC classes through the outreach center.

The center also partners with Harney Education Service District to provide GED testing. There are currently eight GED students.

Moody noted that Training and Employment Consortium helps individuals aged 16-21 who are not in school obtain GED certifications.

Owens spotted inaccurate/outdated information in Exhibit A of the service agreement.

Runnels will sign the agreement once a revised copy of Exhibit A is received;

• reviewed water use requests;

• received a copy of the Malheur National Forest Schedule of Proposed Actions for Fall of 2017, which can be found online at;

• held the Frenchglen/ Diamond rural work session Oct. 23 at Frenchglen Elementary School.

The Fields rural work session will be held at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at Fields Elementary School.

Harney County Health Department staff will attend to provide flu shots, and there will be an opportunity to sign up for the Oregon Health Plan.

The next regular meeting of the Harney County Court will be held Nov. 1 at 10 a.m. in Runnels’ office at the courthouse.

Samantha White

Samantha White was born and raised in Harney County, and she graduated from Burns High School in 2005. After high school, she attended the University of Oregon where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in magazine journalism. White was hired as a reporter for the Burns Times-Herald in September 2012.

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