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Out of Control E.P.A. and Power Hungry Oregon D.E.Q. Claims they Found Levels of Toxic Mercury in the McKenzie River.

Posted by Scott Rohter on Sunday, February 2, 2014



 Goodpasture Covered Bridge getting a new roof

     It’s not a Little Mercury in the River.  It’s Really Just a Big Chevrolet !

 The Current Battle for Control of One of Oregon’s Most Beautiful Rivers.


By Scott Rohter, February 2014-Updated January 2015


Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality claims they found Mercury in the McKenzie River…

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Leaburg Lake on the McKenzie River

Leaburg Lake on the McKenzie River

The McKenzie River is one of Oregon’s cleanest and most pristine rivers and it is already one of Oregon’s most protected rivers. Certain parts of it are designated as a “Wild and Scenic River” by the United States government. Those parts of the river receive the strictest federal protections. The McKenzie River is well known to fly fishermen and drift boat enthusiasts alike. People from all over the world come to Lane County to fish in its clean waters and ride its lovely rapids, but wait… the rapids aren’t the only thing that is raging. The battle for control of the river is raging once again too…

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (D.E.Q.) says they recently measured trace amounts of mercury in two species of migratory fish which they caught in the summer of 2008 and 2009 in Springfield near the mouth of the McKenzie River. The two fish they tested were a Northern Pikeminnow and a Large Scale Sucker fish. These fish make their home in both the Willamette River and the McKenzie River. Therefore it does not  follow that the trace amounts of mercury measured in those two fish necessarily came from the McKenzie River. More tests need to be done farther upstream in the McKenzie River before any conclusions about the origin of that mercury can be drawn but the D.E.Q. has already listed the McKenzie River on a list of mercury polluted rivers in Oregon. Why is the Oregon DEQ in such a big hurry and why are they more concerned about the mercury that is not in the McKenzie River than all the mercury that actually is in our children’s vaccines?

It is common knowledge that the Coast Fork of the Willamette River as well as the main body of the Willamette River to a lessor extent contain abnormally high levels of mercury from abandoned gold and silver mines located in the Bohemia Mining District. These mines are located in the mountains south east of Cottage Grove.  These old mines have been leaching their toxic contaminants into Cottage Grove Lake and Dorena Reservoir since the mid 1940s. One of the old mines is even on the Federal E.P.A. Superfund List, but none of these abandoned mines are located anywhere near the McKenzie River nor any of its tributaries.  These mines as well as Cottage Grove Lake and Dorena Reservoir are all over the mountains in a completely separate river valley which is drained by the Coast Fork of the Willamette River.

Now the battle to control the McKenzie River is raging once again and the battle to protect it from pollution that doesn’t even exist in the McKenzie River Valley as well as the battle to protect it from excessive State and Federal regulations that actually do exist and real power hungry bureaucrats at both the State and Federal levels. 

There have never been any claims made about mercury pollution in the McKenzie River before… not even once in Oregon’s 150 year history. There are no commercial mining operations located in the McKenzie River Valley and no one has ever alleged that the McKenzie River is anything less than the beautiful crown jewel in Oregon’s magnificent hydrological crown. 

Now along comes the Oregon D.E.Q. in 2008  which is following in the footsteps of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. (E.P.A.) which recently set new stricter national standards for the maximum allowable level of mercury in fish which are caught for human consumption. The D.E.Q. found small traces of mercury in two species of migratory fish that were caught near the confluence of the McKenzie and the Willamette Rivers. To the best of my knowledge no one even eats these two species of fish that were chosen to do the sample testing. They are the Northern Pikeminnow and the Large Scale Sucker fish. Nevertheless the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has now added the beautiful McKenzie River to its growing list of polluted rivers in Oregon. That list isn’t the only thing that is growing. The D.E.Q.’s  power and control over our lives is growing too, along with the reach and scope of the Federal E.P.A. Both of these massive government agencies are out of control and they need to be reigned back in.



Eugene's Water Intake Facility in Springfield

Eugene’s Water Intake Facility in Springfield

The McKenzie River is the sole municipal drinking water source for the City of Eugene which diverts its allotted share of water to the Eugene Water and Electric Board (E.W.E.B.) Hayden Bridge Water Treatment Plant located in Springfield.  E.W.E.B. takes actual test samples of water four times a year at their intake facility near Marcola Road. They have never detected any measurable levels of mercury in any of the raw water samples they have tested in their entire one hundred year history… not even once! Therefore officials at E.W.E.B. have disputed the accuracy of the State D.E.Q. findings and they question the wisdom of sampling a migratory fish that is known to swim back and forth between the McKenzie River and the Willamette River.

In addition to being out of control, the power hungry State Department of Environmental Quality has demonstrated a remarkable lack of  knowledge of our local environment. So has our main newspaper in Lane County, the Eugene Register Guard. They recently published a front page article by an ambitious young reporter named Josephine Woolington entitled, “DEQ finds Mercury in the McKenzie River.”  The alarming title of Miss Wollington’s story along with its  prominent position on the first page above the fold was nothing less than outrageous. The placement of the story and the title was intended to grab the reader’s attention and to get them to form an incorrect conclusion before even reading the rest of the article.  One of the anonymous sources that Ms. Woolington quoted in her story said that he wouldn’t be surprised if the McKenzie River tested positive for mercury since the river flows over rocks which might contain mercury. Might contain mercury?… Really? I might be the King of Saudi Arabia, but I’m not!

It should be noted for scientific purposes that minerals are always found in rocks although not every rock contains all of the minerals. Our whole planet is just a great big rock. Minerals come from rocks, but minerals don’t usually get into the water in detectable amounts sufficient to measure unless the rocks containing those minerals are disturbed in some way.  For mercury to be found in the River the rocks have to contain mercury. Then they have to be disturbed in some way in order for the mercury to be released into the river. Minerals don’t usually get into the water stream unless those rocks containing them have been blasted or crushed in a mining operation. This is especially true for mercury which is only found in certain types of rocks. Unless those rocks containing mercury have been blasted and mined the mercury usually stays locked up in those rocks for all time. It doesn’t get into the drinking water of the McKenzie River.

There are no large scale commercial mining operations located in the McKenzie River Valley and their never have been because valuable minerals have never been found there in sufficient quantities to justify their removal,. So there is no reason at all to believe that there is any mercury in the McKenzie River. That is our good fortune and the good fortune of everyone who lives in the McKenzie River Valley. The only thing being mined in the McKenzie River Valley are trees for harvest and gravel for the roads to get to them. Gravel doesn’t contain mercury. If it did they wouldn’t be using it for roads. This should have been pointed out in the Register Guard story, but it wasn’t. 


McKenzie River Valley Territory

McKenzie River Valley

Several years ago the Eugene City Council and the Lane County Board of Commissioners  collaborated in an effort to try to restrict the land use along the McKenzie River and in the McKenzie River Valley. This affected many property owners who were fortunate enough to have surface water on their property. The attempt failed however when about five hundred angry property owners deluged a November, 2010 Lane County Board of Commissioners meeting. The motion to create a 200 foot easement along the McKenzie River and all of its tributaries as well as a special overlay map of restricted land use areas was tabled. But the liberals who sit on the Lane County Land Planning Commission have never given up their idea of confiscating or at least restricting the use of land along the McKenzie River which provides the municipal drinking water for the city of Eugene. I would not be at all surprised if this latest attempt by the Oregon D.E.Q. is just another attempt to curtail the use of land along the river, and the rights of property owners who live in the McKenzie River Valley.


Pollution in Oregon’s rivers is a rather recent phenomenon. It is caused primarily by four different things:

  1. Heavy agricultural use of land along a river that involves the use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides

  2. Municipal sewer discharges that have come mainly from Portland in the past

  3. Industrial chemicals that are used primarily in Oregon’s various wood products industries

  4. Toxic runoff from Oregon’s abandoned mines located primarily in the old Bohemia Mining District southeast of Cottage Grove which leach their contaminants into Dorena Reservoir and Cottage Grove Lake. From there they flow into the Coast Fork of the Willamette River and north toward Portland.


View looking west from Marcola Rd water intake

View looking west from Marcola Rd water intake

There are no large scale agricultural enterprises located along the McKenzie River. There are no municipal sewage plants dumping their raw sewage into the river the way they have done in Portland in the past whenever the rains produce more runoff than their wastewater treatment plant can handle. There are no mills or other wood products industries located along the banks of the McKenzie River except for one Weyerhaeuser paper plant located in Springfield not far from the confluence of the McKenzie and the Willamette Rivers, but they don’t use mercury to process any paper products.   And there are no commercial mineral mining operations going on in the McKenzie River Valley.






Koosah Falls on the Upper McKenzie River

Koosah Falls on the Upper McKenzie River

The main source of the McKenzie River is a series of large springs bubbling up in the forested peaks of the Cascade Mountains near Clear Lake. Extensive testing of the water downstream from these sources has never indicated any pollution in the McKenzie River of any sort… including mercury. The old Bohemia Mining District is the principal source of toxic mercury in the Willamette River. This pollution enters Cottage Grove Lake and Dorena Reservoir from Big Creek and Sharp Creek which drains Bohemia Mountain and the old mining district. From there the tainted water flows into the Row River and enters the Coast Fork of the Willamette River.  The Coast Fork of the Willamette River joins the main body of the Willamette River near Pleasant Hill and Jasper. About fifteen miles downstream from there and about ten miles west of Springfield the beautiful McKenzie River adds its pristine waters to the mix.  It was somewhere near there that the Northern PIkeminnow  and the Large Scale Sucker fish were caught in 2008 and 2009 which tested positive for mercury in trace amounts. These are migratory fish that they caught which swim back and forth between both rivers. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where the source of the mercury in the fish is coming from, and it isn’t the McKenzie River.

Karl Morgenstern is Eugene Water and Electric Board’s Water Source Protection Coordinator. He went on record this week stating that the D.E.Q. tested the wrong fish. The fish they sampled were both migratory fish that swim back and forth between the waters of both the Willamette River which is polluted and the waters of the McKenzie River which is not polluted. For a more reliable indicator of the actual water quality of the McKenzie River they should have tested actual water samples the way that EWEB routinely does or they should have sampled a type of fish that doesn’t ever leave the McKenzie River such as the resident Cutthroat Trout or the McKenzie Rainbow Trout. They could have tested the sediment on the bottom of the river, but they didn’t. The real objective here was not to arrive at the truth of course. The real objective is to lock up the McKenzie River in perpetuity and to prevent more people from living along its banks or anywhere in the beautiful McKenzie River Valley. They just don’t trust people to take good care of the river.

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