Blue Water Task Force, Water Quality
March 13 2018

Protecting Clean Water On the North Coast of Oregon

by Colleen Henn

After one decade of water quality monitoring, the North Coast Blue Water Task Force Lab in Oregon has developed into a powerful citizen science program that effectively works with community members, local schools, state programs and county institutions to solve problems and protect clean water.

The North Coast BWTF began sampling in 2008 to provide the community with water quality information on the North Coast of Oregon. The program is run by passionate volunteers, and is supported by the Surfrider Portland Chapter. They work closely with multiple agencies including the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the Oregon Beach Monitoring Program. 

Since the origin of their BWTF program, the North Coast has been collecting samples from the outfall pipe located at Ecola Court on Cannon Beach. This location has been identified as one of the worst stormwater outfalls on Oregon beaches, exceeding the health advisory limits 50% of the time it is sampled. The Ecola Court outfall pipe discharges into a shallow creek that flows across the sand and empties into the ocean. The calm, shallow water of this creek unfortunately attracts young children who can often be found splashing, wading and playing in its waters.  The outfall pipe is also located alongside the most predominant beach access in Cannon Beach used by tourists and locals alike, exposing thousands of people to elevated bacteria on any given summer day.

Working together with their local partners at the Ecola Watershed Council to advocate for solutions to this water pollution problem, Surfrider has finally succeeded in convincing the City of Cannon Beach to assess the stormwater and sewer infrastructure upstream of the Ecola Court outfall pipe. Utilizing smoke and dye testing techniques, the City uncovered several different problems such as sewer cross-connections, broken sewer lines, and failures with pump stations that were contributing to the pollution on the beach.

Having successfully worked on infrastructure testing at Short Sands Beach, and with the Cities of Newport and Coos Bay, Surfrider was adamant that a similar process would help determine the culprit of high bacteria at Cannon Beach. As a result of the infrastructure analysis, the City Council of Cannon Beach approved the capital improvement projects for the City’s stormwater and sewer infrastructure! It's been a long road, but thanks to the perseverance of the North Coast Surfrider volunteers and their local partners, Cannon Beach is well on its way to becoming a clean, healthy beach!

In addition to the success they have had in convincing the City to address the  bacterial pollution problem at Cannon Beach, the North Coast BWTF program continues to evolve to meet community needs and concerns. Their water testing lab was relocated to Seaside High School in 2017, helping improve volunteer logistics and expand monitoring coverage to include testing sites on three additional coastal rivers – the Necanicum, Neacoxie and Neawana – which are often collected by the students themselves. The improved facilities make for a better learning atmosphere and increase the students’ engagement in the water quality monitoring program. Since the lab was moved, approximately 95 high school students and 12 local citizen volunteers have been trained to collect and process local beach and creek water for bacteria. The lab is being run-year-round, with students collecting samples even in the summertime.

One of the most incredible benefits for the North Coast BWTF volunteers working alongside Seaside High School students is the ability to take a number of lifelong residents of Seaside to the beach for their first time, building a strong connection between students and their local beaches and the ocean.

As their roots within the North Coast Community deepen as time goes on, the North Coast BWTF continues to look for answers to pollution problems in their community, working closely with their state, county, and local partners, and empower the next generation of stewards to be connected and protect their favorite beaches.