Morrow County Residents Press Wyden Over Groundwater Issues


By Alex  Baumhardt

At a virtual town hall Wednesday afternoon, Oregon’s senior U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden was pressed by several Morrow County residents about what he would do to help with the area’s groundwater nitrate pollution issues.

A resident of Boardman told Wyden: “​​I’m going to keep it simple because it’s a hot topic in town, and out of town, and it’s the current water situation. I’m sure you are well aware of it.” She then asked: “Are we going to get any help to fix this?”

She was referring to the area’s contaminated groundwater, which the Oregon Capital Chronicle detailed in a series starting in May and has continued to write about.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden

Wyden sidestepped the question. He said in March he had proposed a bill called the WASH Act, referring to water, sanitation and hygiene, “to kind of close the access gap with drinking water and trying to make available grants for areas like this.”

The act would establish a working group to survey and collect data on households nationwide that lack safe drinking water, including in Morrow County. It would require the federal Environmental Protection Agency to analyze the cost of improving drinking water in areas of need and create grants for low-income people and communities to help pay for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

“Currently, federal data fails to accurately measure the water access gap in America, resulting in insufficient financial assistance and infrastructure investment in sanitation and clean drinking water for underserved communities nationwide,” a summary of the bill reads.

Morrow County is among the areas in need of clean drinking water.

Many residents rely on well water from the Lower Umatilla Basin, which has become increasingly contaminated by nitrates over the last 30 years from farm fertilizers, animal manure and wastewater from the port and area food processors.

For the complete story, see the Oregon Capital Chronicle.