(The Center Square) – U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both Democrats from Oregon, recently announced that Morrow and Umatilla counties have received $1.7 million to help address nitrate contamination in private wells.
The funding comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Senators hope it will help the communities find a long-term solution to the water crisis that communities in the Lower Umatilla Basin face.
“Oregonians in Morrow and Umatilla County deserve the peace of mind that every time they turn on the tap, it’s with full confidence that the water is clean and safe,” Wyden said in a press release. “Based on my Morrow County town hall this spring and other conversations in the community, it’s clear that rural Oregonians in this part of the state have serious and legitimate water safety concerns — and I’m glad these federal funds are en route to help solve this problem once and for all.”
Merkley added that communities should not have to worry about having clean water to brush their teeth.
“When I visited impacted community members in rural Morrow County and held a town hall there earlier this year, I heard devastating stories about how nitrate contamination is raising serious health concerns—with some families afraid to even brush their teeth. This is unacceptable,” Merkley said. “Everyone should have access to clean, safe drinking water, and this federal investment will help Morrow and Umatilla counties work with the State of Oregon and local communities to more fully understand the scope of the problem and start identifying a better path forward.”
The Senators also think the impacted communities will use the funding to come up with long-term solutions to this problem, including the creation of a comprehensive inventory of domestic wells and more well testing.
Well pollution has been an issue for over 30 years in rural Oregon. The problem arises from nitrogen fertilizer used by farmers that seeps into the groundwater.
Water consistently tests at levels as high as 40 to 50 milligrams of nitrate per liter in private wells in Morrow and Umatilla Counties, according to InvestigateWest. If people face exposure to water with nitrate levels exceeding 10 for long periods, they face health issues, including cancer and blue baby syndrome. The latter condition results in low oxygen levels in the blood of infants.