OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

New Map, Website Outlines Willamette River Water Issues

08/29/2008

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new, far more detailed Willamette River Water Quality map and website has been completed and updated for the first time in 11 years, providing access to a wealth of information about water issues in the river basin that is home to more than two out of every three Oregonians.

The map and associated information was prepared by the Corvallis Environmental Center with support by the Institute for Water and Watersheds at Oregon State University. The website is http://water.oregonstate.edu/projects/willwq.htm.

Printed copies of the map will also be available after Sept. 15 for $10, and can be purchased from the OSU Bookstore or by calling the Corvallis Environmental Center, telephone 541-753-9211.

The full-color map provides much more topographic and spatial information than the older version, on everything from specific industries that emit pollutants to a history of Willamette River floods. Many links are also available to obtain additional data elsewhere on the Internet.

The map includes:

  • Willamette Valley climate information 
  • Water quality in streams and many specific locations, tracked through time
  • Point-source polluters of the river basin
  • Historical changes in the Willamette River and flood plain
  • Information on different pollutants and maximum allowable pollution loads
  • Descriptions and history of riparian and wetland habitat
  • Locations of dams, landfills, sewage treatment plants, wetlands, rivers and land uses
  • Practical tips on what people can do to reduce their own pollution impact

“If people want to know where their garbage ends up, what water quality issues we face or the effect of dams on streams, they will find it in this map,” said Todd Jarvis, associate director of the Institute for Water and Watersheds. “This is basically part of a public awareness campaign, an effort to help inform the public about the importance of water quality in our lives and what they should know about it.”

By making the information free on the web and available at small cost for a printed map, Jarvis said, OSU and the Corvallis Environmental Center hope to build a better understanding of water topics, the policy choices related to them and an awareness of the growing population pressures that will make these issues even more important in the future.

Although Oregon in general has a reputation for abundant and comparatively clean water, there are still multiple pollutant sources and threats to stream and groundwater quality, experts say. Historically the balancing act has always been to protect water as much as possible while allowing for necessary urban, agricultural and industrial development, not to mention the increasingly heavy footprint of additional people – Oregon’s population is expected to grow another 40 percent by the year 2030.

The “point source” pollution posed by specific factories, landfills or sewage treatment facilities is already heavily regulated, Jarvis said. Some of the most important advances of the future may be in “non-point-source” pollution, literally the small but cumulatively important impact of every citizen as they put pesticide on their fruit trees, fertilize their lawns or let oil from a leaky automobile engine drip into the street.

“We’ve made enormous strides in cleaning up the Willamette River here in Oregon, and nationally on many levels, mostly since the 1970s,” Jarvis said. “That’s when water issues finally started to get taken more seriously. But there’s still so much work to be done, some gaping holes in our regulations, and it will take involved and informed citizens to make more progress. We hope the information in this map can help in that effort, help people better connect to and understand the place they live.”

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Jarvis said, is one of the few places in the U.S. that has available to the public so much information on water quality issues. Much of the information and work on this map was produced with volunteer labor during the past two years.

OSU uses the map in some of their courses on water science and policy, and “we hope that elementary, middle and high schools will find value in the map as a learning tool for students,” Jarvis said.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has also made Willamette River protection and cleanup a key goal of his administration, Jarvis said, and a number of specific projects have been implemented as a result.