CORVALLIS - Oregon State University considers environmental problems in the Oak Creek watershed, whose lower reaches include the OSU campus, an educational opportunity and is inviting the public to contribute information that will help the university and others such as landowners and local government develop a comprehensive management plan for the watershed.
Wilson "Toby" Hayes, OSU vice provost for research, has appointed an "Oak Creek Action Team" to evaluate priorities for management actions and needs for long-term planning, ecological evaluation and environmental monitoring.
According to Stan Gregory, a fisheries professor on the team, there will be public discussion and planning sessions the first Wednesday of the next six months in the large meeting room at the Corvallis Public Library. The first of the meetings, which will run from 6 to 9 p.m., is Wednesday, July 7.
"At the first meeting the team will review initial resource issue statements and develop a timeline for future discussions, evaluations and reports," said Gregory.
"We'd like the process to be open to anyone in the community who's interested," he added, "and we think it's very important to invite representatives of key public groups to enter into the comprehensive planning process."
Gregory said OSU may develop an educational web site that would include environmental information about the watershed and information on what is being done to correct water quality and other problems. The web site would include reports of the team, and anyone would be able to post their thoughts on the site.
In recent months the state Department of Environmental Quality has fined OSU for mishandling hazardous waste materials in labs and research facilitates that were flooded by the waters of Oak Creek, which drains the watershed. The university is appealing the fine.
Earlier, Corvallis city workers caught a 300-gallon diesel spill before it reached the water treatment plant. The DEQ issued the university a notice of noncompliance for the spill, caused by a valve accidentally left open.
In addition, during a winter inspection of the OSU Dairy Center, the Department of Agriculture found excessive E. coli bacteria in a surface water puddle near Oak Creek. The agriculture department ordered the university to find the source of the contamination.
"Many things have been done on university lands that aren't what you'd want them to be," said Gregory. "They were the result of decisions made through the years on single issues.
"The bottom line is, I think a lot of people in this university would like to demonstrate to the public that we are leaders in landscape ecology and management. Our management of university lands should reflect the quality of teaching and research at OSU.
"Unfortunately," he said, "our past practices in Oak Creek have not been coordinated and natural resources have not been evaluated. Our only natural resources management plan is the McDonald-Dunn Forest Plan, which only covers a portion of the Oak Creek basin and university lands.
"We teach students in our classes that these plans are essential elements of landscape management. We want OSU to be on the cutting edge of land management and we're establishing a public process to accomplish that."
According to Gregory, issues in the watershed that may need immediate attention include: manure application and water quality; toxic waste storage and handling; storm water drainage; riparian condition and water quality; water withdrawal, and dams and barriers.
He noted that several OSU research projects already are in progress, gathering useful information in the campus, agricultural and forest reaches of the watershed.
"Public groups such as the Mary's River Watershed Council and the Corvallis Environmental Center also have made major contributions recently to our knowledge of resource conditions in the basin," said Gregory.
Others members of OSU's Oak Creek Action Team are Bob Beschta, a professor of forest engineering; Jim Moore, chair of the bioresources engineering department, and Ken Williamson, director of OSU's Water Resources Research Institute.
"Faculty and staff in many departments throughout the university are doing work related to the watershed," Gregory said. "The Oak Creek Action Team's assessment over the next six months will help OSU initiate evaluation processes and immediate resource actions that build on the outstanding expertise in the university and the Corvallis public."