Blue Water Task Force, Partnerships, Solutions, Source Identification, Youth, Water Quality
March 04 2016

Newport Blue Water Scholar to present to City Council

by Charlie Plybon

Newport Blue Water Scholar to present to City Council

High bacteria readings at Nye Beach in Newport? It’s not the first time and it probably won’t be the last, but longstanding partnerships between Surfrider and the City of Newport continue to gain ground on sourcing pollution issues in this region. Bacteria is the health indicator measured in water quality for recreational contact and Nye Beach being a hub for tourism and beach recreation, local residents and the City alike have a vested interest in maintaining clean water and healthy beaches.

Surfrider Foundation Newport Chapter, the City of Newport and the Oregon Coast Aquarium have recently completed a 6-week winter water quality monitoring study of the Nye Beach stormwater system to help better understand potential sources of bacteria contributing to high readings at the creek outfall in Nye Beach. Following up on high bacteria readings at Nye Beach late last year, the partners developed an “upstream” sampling plan, testing for bacteria both within the creek and inside stormwater lines, where much of the creek flows under the developed area of Nye Beach.  Working collaboratively and cost-sharing the supplies and sampling materials, the groups were able to create a unique opportunity for a “Blue Water Scholar” student internship to lead the monitoring study. Newport High School’s Leland Wood was selected for the internship and worked alongside City engineers, Surfrider volunteers and Aquarium staff to execute the project. Wood will present findings from the monitoring study to Newport City Council on March 7th.

The City of Newport first reached out to Surfrider following high bacteria readings late last year about potential partnerships for added upstream monitoring to help narrow down some of the sources. Given the water quality readings had been steadily low in bacteria for much of 2015, the City believed the recent spikes were a result of a residential sewer line that was either failing or mis-connected.

“In the past, we’ve found houses with their sewer service connected to the City storm main.  We think we’ve found them all, but a string of high bacteria readings was making us worry”, said Olaf Sweetman, City of Newport Assistant City Engineer.

Shortly thereafter, a study plan was put together to divide the Nye Beach drainage and stormwater laterals into sub-regions, sampling sites twice a week over 2 months to isolate potential sources of bacteria that were entering the system.

Surfrider Foundation reached out to Aquarium staff about engaging a youth volunteer in the study given the longstanding partnership between the two groups. Working together, Surfrider and the Aquarium developed the Blue Water Scholar internship opportunity, a program that they hope to continue annually. Leland Wood rose to the top as a potential youth candidate for engaging in the study. Wood had been with the Aquarium’s youth program for many years and was always fascinated with the monitoring program. More than rising to the occasion, Wood not only engaged in the monitoring itself, but was also engaged in laying out the initial sampling plan and analysis of results.

With over 90 miles of stormwater and sewer pipes underneath the City of Newport, there are literally thousands of places to look for sources of bacteria requiring a tedious process of elimination. From December through January, Wood collected samples and processed them in the lab between school and swim practice, dedicating himself to a big part of this tedious elimination process. Assistant City Engineer Olaf Sweetman, who laid out the mapping for the sampling plan, joined Wood each sampling day in the field with Aquarium staff and a Surfrider volunteer to ensure safety and support sampling. The sampling involved over 10 different sites, many sites requiring removal of manholes, blocking traffic and collecting water from storm lines sometimes 12 feet beneath the surface of the street.

Wood’s engagement in the Blue Water Scholar Program has exposed him to real-world citizen science application, critical thinking and the experience of working with multiple public and private partners.

“Blue Water Scholars was a fun, unique, exciting and attainable opportunity that allows me to help in the betterment of the community and its surrounding environment. It gave me uncommon experience in this field of careers and valuable work experience.”

Wood received a $1200 stipend from Surfrider Foundation as part of the Scholar program and internship work. While there is no silver bullet solution out of the study’s findings, the project is providing valuable information about the watershed and stormwater system as a whole, which Wood will be sharing in March to City Council.

For the Newport Chapter of Surfrider, this is a long and ongoing effort of system and illicit connection investigation, sewer repairs and investments in ecosystem-based approaches for management of our urban watershed and local beaches. And statewide, this has been a model community approach to addressing water quality issues at popular recreational beaches – and in small, coastal communities with tourism-based economies…the investment in water quality makes cents.

Thanks to the generosity of Eva Chiles Meyer Fund #1 and the Oneatta Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, the Blue Water Scholar project was one of 3 community-based pollution solutions projects executed through Surfrider’s chapter and volunteer network in 2015. Other projects supported included the launch of a new Blue Water Task Force lab and youth leadership program at Bandon High School and a multi-agency partnership to source and educate on pollution issues at Oswald West State Park (Short Sands beach).