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Clatsop County is a coastal county in the northwest corner of Oregon, with a population of about 41,000 people. It is home to the historic city of Astoria offering stunning views of the Pacific Ocean .

What people are talking about

Climate change
In 2020 one of the biggest marine heat waves on record in the Pacific Ocean, and it's one of several record-setting spikes in ocean water temperatures over the last six years, the series nicknamed “the Blob”.  This can be considered the new normal, and scientists should redefine what a heatwave is. It is important to distinguish between long-term warming and shorter-term temperature spikes because they can affect the marine ecosystem differently. We have temperature data that goes back to 1982, which may not be enough data to be precise on any new definition.  Another couple of years of data and more research into the pressures and drivers of what's causing these heat waves to fully understand if we're in a new pattern.  It’s important for certain fish and other animals that have absolute temperature limits.  They do fine up until a certain point, and then they just can't have it any warmer. As of now, we can rely on more heat waves exacerbating the effects of background warming. In the face of expected yearly heatwaves fishery managers are developing new systems of forecasting harmful algal blooms that produce domoic acid, a potentially deadly neurotoxin, so they can provide early earnings and prevent people from eating shellfish that could poison them as water temperatures get warmer. In response to warming waters and the destruction that has already occurred, the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva in the House recently, is co-sponsored by Oregon's U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, commits the U.S. to protect 30% of our oceans by 2030 from destructive human activities.

Port Westward Industrial Park has a development plan to rezone 837 acres of high-value farmland for rural industrial development. A common scenario playing out in many parts of the West as development moves onto agricultural land. Port Westward’s directors hope to boost the local economy by rezoning and expanding. But it is not easy to get it rezoned from agricultural use to industrial use. The port has been denied rezoning several times, being told it must do more to show compatibility with surrounding farms and habitat.  Water quality is the biggest worry, as an oil, gas, or chemical spill could be catastrophic to the land and water miles downstream. Developers plan to build a four-story container apartment complex above the Port of Astoria on the floodplain to provide workforce housing inside converted shipping containers. The development team needs to study the water requirements of an apartment complex just uphill from the Port, where seafood processors have already put a strain on city water supplies in peak season. Developers would also need a signoff for housing from the state Department of Environmental Quality as the areas are under a 2013 cleanup order from the state for fuel contamination, including a prohibition on residential development and soil monitoring for five years.

Buoy Beer Co. has received $100,000 from the state to upgrade a water line for the city. The money came from leftover lottery funds set aside for a dike and levee improvement project that never started. All the water for the whole neighborhood goes through that pipeline. Improving the water line along Astor Street is critical to ensuring the area's buildings have adequate fire suppression. City Manager Brett Estes described the money as part of a partnership between the city, Buoy Beer, and Business Oregon, the state's economic development agency. The Great American Outdoors Act is the most significant investment for national parks and public lands in decades.  The Arch Cape Water District is set to receive millions of dollars till the end of 2023 with the law fully and permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. District Manager Phil Chick estimates it will cost around $5.5 million to purchase 1,521 acres of commercial timberland around the source of Arch Cape's drinking water to protect water quality from commercial logging on the and around the watershed. The water district wants to create a community forest on the acreage for both social and ecological benefits. Wastewater from around Astoria is pumped to three treatment lagoons built in 1974. The waste is treated through the lagoons, chlorinated with gas, and dechlorinated before being released into the Columbia River. The lagoons are antiquated compared to the more common, mechanically driven wastewater plants.  They worked for Astoria until the local breweries grew, adding massive amounts of waste to be treated.

Since the lagoons were designed to treat residential waste, Astoria is considering new industrial wastewater pretreatment requirements to meet federal standards to put off building an expensive new treatment plant. Since the waste from breweries usually has a much larger concentration of suspended solids from the hops, the city asked the bigger breweries to hire a consultant to improve wastewater treatment with pretreatment options. Nearly all parts of Clatsop County utilize septic systems; there is a search for solutions to replace services where septage is being turned away from local wastewater treatment plants, making septic tank owners drive to Rainier. The Warrenton wastewater treatment plant — the only plant in the county that still accepts septage — is nearing maximum capacity in a couple of years. This financially impacts homeowners and means the county cannot accommodate new industries without a solution.

Since mid-September 2020, a public works employee in Astoria has collected sewer samples each week, and nearly every week, SARS-CoV-2 was detected in the Astoria wastewater monitoring site.  The sampling in Astoria is part of a statewide effort coordinated by the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon State University. The sampling underscores the difficulty communities face in getting a handle on the virus. On stormy days, when the system might suddenly be flooded with water, it dilutes the concentration of the virus. The testing helped local officials better understand if efforts to curtail the spread of the virus were working. A public health advisory has been issued in Seaside.

Beach advisories
The Oregon Health Authority issued a public health advisory Tuesday for higher-than-normal bacteria levels in Seaside ocean waters. Officials say people should avoid direct contact with the ocean, nearby creeks, water runoff flowing into the ocean, and pools of water on the beach until the advisory is lifted. A public health advisory has been issued in Seaside. Higher-than-normal levels of bacteria can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses. Officials say increased pathogen and fecal bacteria levels in ocean waters can come from both shore and inland sources, including stormwater runoff, sewer overflows, failing septic systems, and animal waste. In 2020 the Oregon Health Authority issued a public health advisory for higher-than-normal levels of bacteria in ocean waters at Seaside. People were told to avoid direct contact with the ocean, nearby creeks, water runoff flowing into the ocean, and pools of water on the beach till the advisory lifted. Officials said increased pathogen and fecal bacteria levels in ocean waters can come from both shore and inland sources, including stormwater runoff, sewer overflows, failing septic systems, and animal waste.

A study in the journal Science of the Total Environment based on a 2016 survey of Oregon, Washington state, and British Columbia coastal waters examined larval Dungeness. The findings add concerns about the future of Dungeness crab as atmospheric carbon dioxide — is on the rise due to fossil-fuel combustion. Scientists did not expect this until much later this century, and it has many implications on the $200 million a year economy as well as being a tribal mainstay on the Oregon coast.

The National Flood Insurance Program provides coverage in flood-prone Clatsop County areas in exchange for adopting floodplain development regulations. The Audubon Society of Portland and several other conservation groups sued the agency in 2009, claiming the flood insurance program endangered the habitat of salmon, steelhead, and southern resident killer whales protected under the Endangered Species Act. A biological opinion issued in 2016 suggested some changes like limiting development in flood- and erosion-prone areas.  This would protect salmon, enhance mapping and identification of flood- and erosion-prone areas, use local governments to help track floodplain development and enhance enforcement. In 2018, Oregonians for Floodplain Protection and other groups contended the biological opinion, saying it violated both the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. If the lawsuit wins, it could reverse years of effort in Oregon to reform the taxpayer-subsidized National Flood Insurance Program administered by FEMA. Groups against the lawsuit said that the flood insurance program places people, communities, and wildlife at unnecessary risk by encouraging development in flood-prone areas by providing taxpayer subsidies for insurance coverage that private insurance companies see as too risky to insure.

Since the risk of flooding is common in this county, the act of taking down obsolete flood protection is as important as current flood protection. The Eighth Street Dam on the Skipanon River, while providing some protection from tidal influence, is obsolete during heavy rains and does not allow for proper fish passage.,. The dike was built in the 1960s for flood control. A state inspection in 2012 found the dam would only likely be useful in a two-year flooding event and, without an emergency spillway, posed a significant flood hazard to residents upstream.  In other areas of the county, culverts have also been a barrier for fish, so the county partnered with the North Coast Watershed Association and the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce on a project to remove the culverts and build the bridge. The project will cost more than half a million dollars and will be funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The project was expected to begin in July 2020. New regulations for commercial Dungeness crab fishermen in Oregon aim to get boats on the water earlier in the season and reduce the amount of gear to avoid tangling with endangered whales. The 2020 regulations involve a number of key changes to how the fishery is managed, including a 20% reduction in the number of pots a permit holder is allowed to fish with later in the season.

The state is also tightening regulations around when fisherpeople can get replacement tags for gear reported as lost and lowering requirements for how full meat crabs must be along the southern coast in order for the season to open. Fishery managers will evaluate how effectively this measure reduces the risk of whale entanglement while enabling an economically viable fishery. Oregon is also continuing to work on a habitat conservation plan to be submitted to federal fishery managers and will give fishermen and industry leaders the opportunity to provide their input. Whale entanglements on the West Coast have increased in the past six years. While the number may be due to greater public awareness, fishery managers and researchers also point to a marine heatwave that began in 2014 and triggered a chain reaction in the ecosystem, altering where and when whales migrate and feed. In collaboration with industry and conservation representatives, Oregon wants to get ahead of the problem and avoid a lawsuit like the one brought against California over the impacts on whales from commercial fishing activities. That lawsuit settled in 2019 and now dictates aspects of the state's commercial Dungeness crab fishery. The water district declared an emergency in December 2018 after water production had been at record low levels for the past several years in the late summer months. This is attributed to a rise in vacation rentals. The board also learned that more homes could be built in Cove Beach and Falcon Cove, an unincorporated area on the border of Clatsop and Tillamook counties than previously estimated.  These aspects informed the board that there is a serious problem with having a reliable water supply.

The 2018 emergency drew criticism about transparency and ulterior motives to limit development since property owners were left to find other sources of water to obtain building permits. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a moratorium on utility increases.  Now, to help cover increasing police and fire costs in fast-growing Warrenton, a fee is being considered based on the size of a property's water meter. It was already facing a budget gap from commercial sprawl not covering the costs of delivering utilities, staff reviews, and policing businesses.  The city dispatched Police Chief Mathew Workman to research what other cities do. He spoke to seven cities learning they based their public safety fees on the size of water meters. Workman said, "That would mean a hotel, or the (RV) park or something like that, would have a more substantial cost."

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