Asserting that Oregon has failed to develop cleanup plans for thousands of polluted waterways, Northwest Environmental Advocates has asked a federal judge to require the Environmental Protection Agency to step in and do it instead.

Filed Aug. 3 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Northwest Environmental Advocates v. United States Environmental Protection Agency  claims that because Oregon has failed to develop the pollution cleanup plans known as total maximum daily loads, the EPA is compelled to step in and do it for the state. That's the logic used in a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that forced the EPA to complete TMDLs for temperature in the Snake and Columbia rivers in 2020.

This isn't the first time NWEA has tried to get the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to comply with the Clean Water Act.

"The last time Oregon produced any new water pollution clean-up plans was over a decade ago, and those were the direct result of our having sued EPA in 1996," NWEA Executive Director Nina Bell said in a news release. "It's clear that Oregon only protects water quality in response to lawsuits, so here we go again, heading to federal court."

The lawsuit states there are now 3,741 overly polluted waterways in Oregon that have issues with temperatures and with a wide range of pollutants. Bell said the TMDLs are essential for the Oregon DEQ to be able to issue discharge permits to limit the pollution. It also helps the state address polluted runoff from activities like logging and farming.

NWEA first sued EPA over Oregon's failure to create TMDLs in 1996, ending with a 10-year consent decree that required EPA and DEQ to complete 1,153 TMDLs by the end of 2010. In 2020, NWEA won a separate lawsuit after challenging EPA's approval of TMDLs that allowed high water temperatures in Oregon, which resulted in 714 waters under court order for replacement TMDLs.

NWEA says the lack of action is resulting in more pollution. "According to Oregon, 44 percent of Oregon's river miles are now considered impaired based on data collected through 2018. In 2012, only 33 percent of Oregon's river miles were considered impaired," NWEA stated in its April notice of intent to sue the agency.

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K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.