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The Malheur Watershed is primarily fed by the previous winter’s snowpack. There are high levels of arsenic in the watershed, necessitating bigger and better water treatment facilities to handle both pesticide and industrial pollution.

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In the Southeastern corner of Oregon, there lies a river called Misfortune. When the rolling hills hadn’t yet been developed into the ranches and farms they are today, a French fur trader took a stop by a river. He hid property and furs worth hundreds, and when he came back, they were gone. When he wrote about it in his journal of his ordeal, he called the river "Rivière au Malheur '' or river of misfortune (Oregon State Department). And in many ways, the county would go on to bear through its namesake. However, the Malheur River is not the only one that passes through the county. The rich and diverse watershed includes dozens of smaller tributaries and creeks that flow eventually into the Snake River. While containing a wide variety of streams that are invaluable to the prosperity of the county, it gets significantly less precipitation than the majority of Oregon, with only 11.3 inches falling on average. Due to this, the county relies heavily on snowpack buildup in the mountains to refill streams throughout the year. Without enough snowpack, the region is at high risk for both drought and wildfires, as seen in 2015 and 2018. Drought has a very serious impact on the local economy as the majority of the population are ranchers or farmers. With a successful yield, the county flourishes; however, as climate change wreaks havoc on the environment, the threat of drought becomes all the more pressing. While the residents in cities are more insulated from drought conditions, that does not mean they are safe. The tug of war between local government and industry is only further complicated by federal environmental regulations that communities consistently fail to meet due to decades of pollution.

Malheur county has a desert climate, making it difficult for farmers to raise crops. The growing conditions for onions promote the growth of weeds, which compete for space and can disturb the environment (Robinson, D. & Herring, P. (2014, February 4). Researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) attempt to learn how persistent weeds, including the Yellow nutsedge, grow and thrive (Robinson, D. & Herring, P. (2014, February 4). Management practices to eradicate these weeds include cultivating fields, but it is not as effective as the use of chemicals, which can be very expensive for farmers (Robinson, D. & Herring, P. (2014, February 4). OSU researchers have also improved the growth of onions while reducing their water intake. This resulted in farmers profiting largely from their harvests, with $115.8 million in sales in 2012 (Robinson, D. & Herring, P. (2014, February 4). Unfortunately, a majority of the irrigation water was infected with E.coli above the Food Safety Modernization Act standard (Meyer, L. (2015, February 4). This act would prevent farmers from irrigating their crops with said infected water source. Research on whether onions did become infected with E.coli in E.coli-infested waters found that 16 out of the 150 onions tested became infected, a very low amount (Meyer, L. (2015, August 27). Further research discovered that E.coli does not penetrate the onion bulb or roots and that soil is able to filter some of this E.coli (Meyer, L. (2016, February 3). With this information, the standard was lowered, with testing becoming a requirement for farmers (Meyer, L. (2016, February 3).

Ranchers are a profitable industry in Malheur County. In 2014, production increased to be the number one commodity in Oregon (Albertson, K. (2015, November 22)). In 2014, profits from cattle reached $922 million in Oregon, of which $246.7 million was made from Malheur County (Albertson, K. (2015, November 22)). The last time Malheur County was on top of profits was during the 90s (Albertson, K. (2015, November 22)). Water usage for raising cattle has become scarce throughout the years, with some farmers having a harder time finding resources for their cattle to graze on (Egener, M. (2018, July 17)). Water conservation, especially throughout the summer, is projected to increase throughout the coming years (Egener, M. (2018, July 17)). Drought during 2018 made many farmers resort to sharing their water and travel further distances, which decreased the cattle’s health (Egener, M. (2018, July 17)).

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is deposited from volcanic rock (Meyer, L. (2015, August 30)). The EPA standard for Arsenic in water was 50 ppb in 1975, which was reduced to 10 ppb in 2001 (Meyer, L. (2015, August 30)). Wells in Malheur County has an average of 20-50 ppb Meyer, L. (2015, August 30)). Arsenic can pose a danger to human health, with chronic illnesses including cancer (Meyer, L. (2016, February 16)). Reducing the risk of Arsenic exposure is to implement reverse osmosis systems which can cost up to $1000, or by switching to bottled water (Meyer, L. (2015, August 30)). After Hells Canyon Complex is a hydroelectric dam on the Snake River. Temperature fluctuations in the water are the greatest cause of concern, as they occur rather frequently within a two-week period (Meyer, L. (2015, February 11)). With a 50-year license expiring in 2005, the dam is working with 250 agencies to gain its license again (Meyer, L. (2015, February 11)). Part of the process requires being approved by the Oregon DEQ and EPA. They will need to consider its temperature fluctuations and the adjustment suggested by Idaho raised from Oregon DEQ’s standard of 13℃ to 14.5℃ (Meyer, L. (2015, February 11)). Temperature is crucial to the survival of salmon, especially during their spawning period. Supposedly, the Chinook salmon population that lives below the dam has been healthy and consistently growing within the past 20 years (Meyer, L. (2015, February 11)).

A high concentration of cyanobacteria was observed in the Brownlee reservoir, near the Brownlee Dam (Officials say avoid water near the rec area. (2018, July 25)). Coming into contact with cyanobacteria in high concentrations may cause flu-like symptoms, liver damage, and neurotoxic reactions (Officials say to avoid water near rec area. (2018, July 25 & Officials issue a health advisory for algae bloom on 15 miles of river. (2019, July 15))). The EPA focuses its standards on microcystins and cylindrospermopsin, two types of cyanobacteria that can cause issues to vulnerable populations of young or elderly people at 0.3 ppb or greater (Marrow, H. (2018, August 7)). Fortunately, tests from the City of Ontario’s water systems were found to contain no cyanobacteria (Marrow, H. (2018, August 7)). In 2019, the Brownlee Reservoir, part of the Snake River, was found to have high concentrations of cyanobacteria, which prohibited contact with the water by people and pets (Officials issue a health advisory for algae bloom on 15 miles of river. (2019, July 15)). Livestock is also at risk of drinking the water, and boiling or filtering the water to get rid of cyanobacteria poses a greater risk to the consumer (Officials issue a health advisory for algae bloom on 15 miles of river. (2019, July 15)).

In 2015, dry weather during the winter months melted the snow packs that would provide irrigation for farmers (Meyer, L. (2015, February 18)). Fortunately, soil moisture is adequate to allow charged watersheds to flow instead of being absorbed into the ground (Meyer, L. (2015, February 18)). South Mountain and Mud Flat are major areas that contribute to the Owyhee reservoir and runoff (Meyer, L. (2015, December 23)). A large portion of the snowpack does not become water content, for example, the Mud Flat had 15 inches of snow, but only 3.4 inches became water content (Meyer, L. (2015, December 23)). Unlike rain, additional snow would greatly improve the potential water supply in watersheds for longer periods of time (Caldwell, P. (2018, May 2)). Although large amounts of snow could result in the use of solid salt, which will reach water bodies through runoff and prevent plants from absorbing water (Withycombe, C. (2018, November 21)).

Farmers buying and growing GMO plants are controlled by House Bills 2674 and 2675, which were introduced by state Representative Peter Buckley (Meyer, L. (2015, March 8)). The concern for GMO plants comes from the possibility of hybridization occurring with non-GMO plants. Keeping an eye on where GMO plants are distributed and where they are grown will help prevent or identify events of cross-contamination (Meyer, L. (2015, March 8)). Unfortunately, it is impossible to prevent GMO plants from escaping a farmer’s property and destroying ecosystems. Glyphosate-tolerant creeping bentgrass is a GMO plant that is highly of concern to Malheur County and is sought out to be exterminated where it is found (Meyer, L. (2016, May 5)). This species is especially dangerous to crops with its ability to cross-contaminate, which would disqualify the crops from being sold to other nations (Meyer, L. (2016, May 5)& (Meyer, L. (2016, June 2)).

The Vale School District’s water pipes may have corroded lead into the water resulting in a high amount of lead at 15.9 ppb (Marrow, H. (2016, June 19)). Typically, the Oregon Health Authority has a standard of 15 ppb for corrective action, which would make the school’s water above that level (Marrow, H. (2016, June 19)). Lead can cause a variety of symptoms in children, including developmental delays and abdominal pain (Marrow, H. (2016, June 19)).

Sage grouse is a threatened species that is at risk of being put on the endangered species list (Meyer, L. (2015, March 15)). They are threatened due to the reduced habitat space from agriculture and urbanization. To prevent the species from being listed as endangered, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has spent $2 million annually from 2015 to 2020 towards protecting and restoring sage grouse habitat (Meyer, L. (2015, April 12)). In addition, mining activity has been reduced in sage grouse habitat (Meyer, L. (2015, June 23)). Preventing the sage grouse from being put on the endangered species list is critical for many farmers to keep their jobs, as well as many wells from being built to help with irrigation (Meyer, L. (2018, October 26)).

Zebra and quagga mussels are an invasive species that is commonly spread by waterways. In order to prevent their further spread, there are inspection points along lakes where boating occurs. Lake Erie in Ohio for example, has an inspection station that has found many zebra mussels stuck to the bottoms or propellers of boats (Invasive mussels found during boat inspection. (2015, April 26)). It is a necessary effort for boat drivers to stop and practice cleaning, draining, and drying their boats before they continue (Invasive mussels found during boat inspection. (2015, April 26)). Refusing to do so results in a $110 fine under an Oregon 2011 law (Invasive mussels found during boat inspection (2015, April 26)). These mussels can survive for up to 30 days on a boat depending on the conditions, making it very crucial for boat drivers to check their boats (Inspectors find Zebra mussel infested boat. (2017, March 9)). In the Owyhee Reservoir, there was a discovery of New Zealand mud snails attached to a boat, which can potentially cause similar damage to ecosystems like the zebra and quagga mussels (Meyer, L. (2016, March 24)). 

Two hydrocarbon product pipelines were proposed by the oil producer Atla Mesa Idaho (Ruth, R. (2017, May 24)). These pipelines would go near a sensitive water supply that supplies the city’s water, potentially becoming a threat during or after the construction of the new pipes (Ruth, R. (2017, May 24)). Some gas and oil drilling calls for the use of injection wells to inject wastewater into the ground (Ruth, R. (2017, December 6)). Seismic activity and the risk of contaminating freshwater sources are some of the concerns for using this method (Ruth, R. (2017, December 6)). As a result, the state refuses to permit producers like Alta Mesa to use injection wells to dispose of their waste, instead resulting in the more costly and timely method of evaporation (Ruth, R. (2017, December 6)).

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