Blue Water Task Force, Partnerships, Solutions, Source Identification, Youth, Water Quality
December 15 2014

BWTF Pollution Solutions Expanding in Oregon in 2015

by Charlie Plybon

One of Surfrider’s strongest programs in Oregon is our Blue Water Task Force (BWTF), which tests recreational water quality at over 40 different beaches along our coastline, publicizes results and works on pollution solutions with local partners and designated management agencies. Thanks to the generosity of Eva Chiles Meyer Fund #1 and the Oneatta Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, we’re excited to expand this chapter and volunteer driven program in 2015. Projects to be supported include the launch of a new lab and program at Bandon High School, collaboration with the City of Newport on a water quality restoration project and a multi-agency partnership to source and educate on pollution issues at Oswald West State Park (Short Sands beach). 

We’re already off to a great start in these 3 project areas and throughout 2015 we’ll see some great program and project work coming out of these communities and partnerships. For updates on our progress, please check the Surfrider Foundation Oregon Region website and newsletters for updates throughout the year. Our Portland Chapter has started moving forward with the Oswald West State Park project, formalizing agreements with Oregon State Parks and holding their first training for the newly formed action team. Our Bandon High School lab was launched just this week and is in the final process of forming their QUAD Club. And our Newport Chapter is furthering Phase I project planning with city planners and local partners for a restoration project to help improve water quality conditions at Nye Beach.

Many of Surfrider’s volunteers and supporters in Oregon regularly participate in beach and ocean recreational activities, so it’s no surprise that water quality is the most popular coastal issue of engagement within our network. This is most evident in our chapters’ extensive volunteer BWTF water quality monitoring programs. Representing the only year-round source of coastal of water quality data (350+ samples/year at over 40 sites through 7 different labs), this program has provided the foundation for many collaborative solutions to water quality issues on the Oregon coast.

Additionally, the program serves as a tremendous platform for community engagement, outreach and education, and hands-on citizen science with real world implications. BWTF has demonstrated success by raising public awareness of coastal water pollution levels and precipitating the establishment of state and local government water quality monitoring programs in many communities where the program has been implemented.

Water sample analysis is conducted in BWTF laboratories located in schools, aquariums, or research institutions through joint partnerships with Surfrider chapters that engage citizens, students and provide hands-on experiential learning. Water samples are tested for the presence of "indicator bacteria", enterococcus and E. coli, using EPA-approved procedures. It is this citizen involvement that truly advances our BWTF program, fostering environmental stewardship and a collaborative approach to addressing pollution issues through community-building relationships and partnerships.

We feel extremely fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers and strong community partnerships, as Surfrider’s approach to addressing pollution solutions depends on local level engagement and collaboration. Many of the recreational water quality issues we are affected by are directly linked to the communities we live in and finding solutions as a community through partnerships and collaboration has always been our strongest strategy. We’re grateful to Oregon Community Foundation for supporting our work at the community level where we have the strongest opportunities to advance conservation strategies and pollution solutions for water quality issues.

Beyond Communities – The Water Quality Policy Landscape

Many of Oregon’s ocean beaches suffer from impaired water quality. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently listed 19 Oregon beaches on the 303(d) list of impaired or threatened waters as bacteria-limited due to chronic issues related to non-point source pollution. Existing challenges to addressing beach pollution include: a lack of formal community-agency partnerships and citizen engagement in focused projects to monitor, source and address these areas of bacterial pollution as well as the need for strengthened community leadership, capacity and outreach to raise awareness and engage in pollution solutions. Further underscoring the need to address these issues, Oregon’s coastal non-point pollution control program was recently rejected by NOAA and EPA, threatening Oregon’s ability to qualify for extremely important funding through the Coastal Zone Management Act. The state’s only beach water quality monitoring program, The Oregon Beach Monitoring Program, is also in jeopardy, as the EPA has proposed eliminating funding that supports the program through the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act for three years in a row.