Progress John Day (copy)

City Manager Nick Green stands in front of a holding pond for John Day’s wastewater treatment plant in 2017.

The Department of Environmental Quality is requesting a third groundwater site analysis at the location of the future wastewater treatment plant in John Day.

The city is currently working with an expired Water Pollution Control Facilities permit, which needs to be renewed for the future wastewater treatment plant.

Bob Long, a consultant from CwM-H2O, said this is an interesting permitting challenge for the city on this project due to a recent Supreme Court decision from Maui, Hawaii.

“This is a brand new permitting system that DEQ has not run through their agency yet,” Long said. “The Supreme Court made a decision last year, and the EPA then propagated some guidance to the states.”

Long said the Maui decision was based on a situation on the island where the state issued a WPCF permit, which allows for wastewater to be discharged to land.

“Unfortunately, they were discharging directly to a lava tube, which ran down to a coral reef and acted like a pipeline,” Long said.

The Oregon state website defines two types of wastewater permitting documents for two different types of systems: the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System and the Water Pollution Control Facility. The site says that NPDES-permitted facilities discharge pollutants from any point source, such as a pipe, to state waters. If a facility discharges to land, it is a WPCF facility.

The U.S. Supreme Court directed the EPA to develop new rules that defined when a regulatory agency may use a state-issued WPCF permit or when the federal permitting path for an NPDES permit is required, according to a letter submitted by Long.

To renew the permit, the city needs to show DEQ that the future disposal method for the new treatment plant will not create the functional equivalent of a direct discharge to state water, or DEQ would have to issue an NPDES permit according to the agenda. This would cause a problem due to the lack of preparatory work with the city’s reach to the John Day River.

The city council motioned to award a contract not to exceed the amount of $150,000 to CwM to perform the site investigation to proceed with permitting, provided DEQ approves the scope of work and agrees that this will be the last site investigation required.

John Day City Manager Nick Green said the water/wastewater loan and grant can be amended to remove the cost of the site investigation from the design and place the funds into the permitting or site analysis line item.

“We’re setting the bar very high being the test case for DEQ,” Green said. “This is going to cost our ratepayers almost $300 per account holder, just to do this study. ... We’re going to take almost $200,000 right out of the gate and shift it from engineering to permitting, but we’ve got to do to it because our ability to spend that $5.2 dollars (from grants) hinges on DEQ issuing a permit so we can operate the facility. I don’t see a way around it: I am just really unhappy with the way this has been handled.”


Rudy Diaz is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at or 541-575-0710.

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