Last summer, through water quality monitoring of Short Sands beaches and nearby streams and tributaries, some spikes in bacterial pollution were identified raising the interest of Oregon Parks and Recreation (OPRD), Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and local ocean users. Limited investigative sampling was performed to help identify sources through Oregon Beach Monitoring Program (OBMP), Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Portland Chapter of Surfrider Foundation’s Blue Water Task Force Program – read more about that here. As summer begins again and the recreational users pour into Short Sands beach, here’s a quick update on where this project lies.
Following a site visit and discussion with OPRD last summer, it was identified that the upper restroom drainfield facility was well under capacity for the use it gets. Although the drainfield was failing, the limited source sampling that was performed by agencies and partners didn’t exactly point to the drainfield as the source of bacterial pollution that we were seeing in the creek and on the beach. In all comparisons, the water quality really wasn’t that bad. I say this based on looking a lot of samples from a lot of different coastal areas. It was however above the health advisory limits and given the high use of this important recreational and ecological area, OPRD was compelled to act.
Restroom and Drainfield Solutions
For the past year, OPRD has been managing the septic for the restrooms as a holding tank, pumping regularly for transfer and treatment by Sweet Septic instead of continuing use of the drainfield. This measure ensures that the drain field doesn’t leach and contribute to pollution concerns in the nearby creek and beach. OPRD engineers having been developing plans and looking for solutions for this upper restroom area and are now in discussion with the county for final review. Some of the challenges with engineering septic solutions here at Oswald have a lot to do with it’s outstanding coastal habitat as well as it’s high visitor use. Here’s some of he options considered by OPRD:
1. We looked at a solar pump system, but the ODOT right of way takes up the space we would need for a drainfield up by the parking lot, and we would not be able to construct what we need within the right of way. If we stayed out of the ODOT right of way, it would mean removing a large number of trees and creating a large clear area above the restroom/shop area that would be even more visible than our current proposal.
2. We had a consultant to look at an alternative method of “cleaning” the effluent using a constructed wetland, but were again faced with the same site, space and visual constraints.
3. With the final option, we will be able to utilize existing Park property and save trees from being cut. There is a clear enough path for the piping which could be slightly modified as constructed to avoid the removal of trees. In addition, we tried to keep the foot print of the drainfield small by installing it in 2 separate areas. Also, the drainfields will be buffered from view by the extensive tree and brush surrounding the site.
Option 3 includes drainfields to be located down near the old campground facility. The footprint of this facility is such that the forest can remain intact without removal of additional trees. While alternative treatments are often favored in coastal habitats, alternative treatment facilities designed for this level of use would be immense and the footprint would be such that the loss of old growth habitat would be unacceptable.
Bacterial Pollution and Source Testing
We’re currently working to help support OPRD in further testing of bacterial pollution in the area. Given the limited testing that we performed and DEQ performed last summer and fall, there’s a bit of concern that the problems are coming from multiple sources. The Portland Chapter has a standing offer with their Blue Water Task Force Program for shared-use of lab equipment and limited supplies for sampling. Both DEQ and OBMP are also willing to support some additional sampling and a partnered source-id study. We have plenty of suspicions, but definitely need more sampling to get to the bottom of these sources AND the support of recreational users. Throughout the summer we’ll be working with OPRD and partners on these opportunities to further source sampling.
Don’t Be a Source of Pollution!
One of the things we’ve had concern over is the impacts from the high recreational use at Short Sands. This is a phenomenal place and one to be valued and shared for future generations, but we must take care to keep this place special. With thousands of visitors to the park throughout the year and hundreds on a given sunny day, our collective impacts can be immense. Here’s a few likely sources of pollution that YOU can be part of the solution!
Use the Restroom – Seriously, I can’t believe we actually have to say this! Your $hit belongs in a toilet where it can be flushed and treated, not in the woods next to the beach or creek! Do us all a favor and walk the terrible trail of tears (100 yards from the beach) and use the restrooms!
I like your dog, but not its poo – The trail to the beach can be a mine-field of dog poo on a heavy-use day. There’s nothing worse than squishing into one of these mossy mountains on your way down to the beach. Your dog poo doesn’t seem like much, but multiply that by the 100s of other dogs that show up and we’ve got one massive amount of poop.
Don’t feed birds – How the pastime of walking down to the beach with a loaf of wonder bread for the seagulls started, I do not want to know. What I do know is that birds are beyond a nuisance when fed and contribute to bacterial pollution heavily when congregating in areas.
Pack it in, Pack it Out! Trash and litter is beyond offensive, it degrades the environment and can even contribute to water quality problems well beyond that of marine debris. Abandoned food and beverage containers often attract nuisance animals that, when congregating and nesting around food sources, contribute sources of bacteria and other disease to nearby water.