City of Medford facing lawsuit over claims of Rogue River pollution

MEDFORD, Ore. — The City of Medford is facing a lawsuit over claims that its wastewater treatment facility is contaminating the Rogue River. The plaintiff, Northwest Environmental Advocates is based up in Portland. They say they don’t typically get involved in cases like this, but said the data is too overwhelming to not take action. For that reason, the organization’s Executive Director Nina Bell said they’re suing both the City of Medford and the Department of Environmental Quality.

“We’ve been concerned about the Medford discharge,” Bell said. “We went ahead and filed the lawsuit.”

It’s based on three studies that bell said were done five years ago.

“The people who really started this were the Rogue Fly Fishers, and the Federation of Fly Fishers, who in 2012, commissioned a study of the affects of Medford on the Rogue River,” Bell said.

Bell noted that study found contaminants in the Rogue downstream from the City’s treatment plant. She said it was sent to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. From there, she said nothing was done.

“The only thing that did happen was that the City hired a consultant, that went out and studied the question, and they confirmed the finding, and then Oregon DEQ also went out and did it’s own study that confirmed the same finding,” Bell said.

Bell said with the three studies, something should have been done five years ago when they were conducted.

“Medford’s discharge is causing a bunch of algae and aquatic weed growth, and it’s killing off pollution sensitive aquatic bugs that are part of the ecosystem,” Bell said. “It has a ripple effect throughout the whole food chain, these little bugs are part of that whole ecosystem that supports salmon.”

The City of Medford declined our interview request but released a statement:

The City of Medford has received a copy of the complaint from the private environmental activist organization Northwest Environmental Advocates.

The City has worked and continues to work cooperatively with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to ensure that all discharges from the sewage treatment plant meet permit requirements.

The study referenced by the plaintiff and its conclusions are disputed by the City.

The plaintiff’s media release makes reference to a DEQ study.  To clarify, that study states in its Executive Summary that “nuisance algal growth and nutrients concerns are not just confined to below the Medford [wastewater treatment plant],” but instead that “they are a broader issue in the Rogue River from below the Lost Creek Reservoir downstream to the former Gold Ray dam.”  The study shows that these concerns exist upstream from the wastewater treatment plant as well as downstream.

It is important to fully analyze the river’s condition and its various causes before spending public dollars so the City can ensure that any money spent on equipment upgrades are used efficiently and in a responsible manner.

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