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Morrow

Morrow County has a population of 12,489 residents and a growth rate of 0.82% as of 2023. The water issues surrounding Morrow county include nitrate contamination, cyanobacteria, drought, wildfires, flash floods, tornadoes, and invasive plants.

What people are talking about

A health advisory for drinking water was declared by Morrow County due to high nitrate concentrations tested in a private well (Morrow County declares emergency over high nitrate levels in wells. (2022, June 10)). Most of the County gets its drinking water from groundwater sources, approximately 4,500 wells supporting 12,000 residents, meaning that the well could undercover larger issues happening in multiple sources (Morrow County declares emergency over high nitrate levels in wells. (2022, June 10)); (Bend Bulletin- Emergency Board to Receive $800k Ask to Help Boardman Resident With Water Crisis. (2022, August 24)). There is a possible correlation to this event from Port of Morrow dumping too much excess nitrogen-rich wastewater in agricultural fields for the past four years alongside other sources of runoff (Morrow County declares emergency over high nitrate levels in wells. (2022, June 10)); (Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley tour reveals Morrow County residents’ frustration with groundwater inaction. (2023, January 21)); (NE Oregonians still waiting for unpolluted drinking water after years of little action. (2023, January 18)). Residents affected by this potentially harmful increase of Nitrate were encouraged to drink bottled water to prevent stomach, bladder, and intestinal cancer, alongside baby blue syndrome, and respiratory infections (Morrow County declares emergency over high nitrate levels in wells. (2022, June 10)); (NE Oregonians still waiting for unpolluted drinking water after years of little action. (2023, January 18)). The state of emergency ended on December 31, 2022, with federal funding of action plans focusing on filtration and testing to keep drinking water under safe conditions (As End To State Aid Looms, Eastern Oregon Receives $1.7 Million In Federal Funding For Groundwater Pollution. (2023, January 12)); (NE Oregonians still waiting for unpolluted drinking water after years of little action. (2023, January 18)). In addition, Governor Kate Brown requested $800,000 of funding in August to support these plans (Bend Bulletin- Emergency Board to Recieve $800k Ask to Help Boardman Resident With Water Crisis. (2022, August 24)). A health advisory for recreational use was issued for Willow Creek Reservoir on October 3, 2022, for cyanobacteria blooms producing cyanotoxins (Recreational Use Advisory Lifted For Willow Creek Reservoir On January 3. (2023, January 3)). While not far from Heppner city, recreationists are encouraged to become familiar with how these blooms appear on the water and know that they can still be present even when the water appears clear (Recreational Use Advisory Lifted For Willow Creek Reservoir On January 3. (2023, January 3)). Keeping pets and children away from ingesting the water is essential in avoiding the potential risks the bacteria poses, as it can not be filtered, boiled, or any other standard procedure (OHA issues recreational advisory for Willow Creek Reservoir. (2020, September 3)). The advisory was lifted on January 3, 2023 likely due to the blooms being less active in the winter (Recreational Use Advisory Lifted For Willow Creek Reservoir On January 3. Morrow County, like much of eastern Oregon, is susceptible to droughts, with added stress by water usage. A drought emergency was declared in Morrow County three times since 2000, in September 2001, April 2005, and August 2013 (Drought Impacts in Morrow County. (2023)). The drought in 2005 was especially severe, being the driest year within a 60-month period in the recorded history of droughts for Morrow County (Drought Impacts in Morrow County. (2023)). The USDA designated Morrow County as one of the four primary natural disaster areas, supplying the County with emergency loans to help agriculture stay afloat during its drought seasons (USDA Designates Four Oregon Counties as Primary Natural Disaster Areas. (2022)). The County will rely on the Columbia River to provide peak flows during drought months, and with the Umatilla Basin Project, the flow has improved and fish populations have increased as a result (Living With Umatilla & Morrow County Natural Resources. (2006)). With dry climates come ideal conditions for wildfires to occur. Between 1984 to 2003, 873 fires were observed across Morrow County (Wildfire History and Location in Morrow County. (2023)). One recent fire in the summer of 2018 observed a 120-acre wildfire arise near the land of an Off-Highway Vehicle Park south of Heppner (120-acre wildfire breaks out SW of Heppner. (2018, July 24)). No evacuations were issued and it appears that no one was hurt (120-acre wildfire breaks out SW of Heppner. (2018, July 24)). A major fire that reached Morrow County land was the “Willow Creek Fire” that started in Ontario on private property (Willowcreek Fire 75% contained, crews begin patrol and mop up. (2022, July 1)); (Wildfire History and Location in Morrow County. (2023)). The fire burned over 40,000 acres but did not cause evacuations (Willowcreek Fire 75% contained, crews begin patrol and mop up. (2022, July 1))). One way to prevent the spread of wildfires is by using prescribed burning, a practice done in cooler months that helps reduce potential plant biomass fuel (Prescribed Burns. (2023)). The USDA helps organize controlled burning patrols in Umatilla National Forest, being conscious of how much smoke is being produced from the act to abide by local, state and federal regulations (Prescribed Burns. (2023)). The burns also help provide animals with native vegetation and create habitat for species where invasive species may have taken over (Prescribed Burns. (2023)). Flash floods can occur as a result of wildfires near watersheds, when the soil is unable to absorb water from lost vegetation and dry conditions (Why is there a higher risk of flooding after a fire? (2023)). They can also trigger from rainfall after a fire event, and cause destruction from tearing down trees and houses to carrying boulders (Why is there a higher risk of flooding after a fire? (2023)). The risk of a flash flood decreases after two to five years of a wildfire, but can be reduced best with prevention and clearing debris from water pipes (Why is there a higher risk of flooding after a fire? (2023)). The worst flash flood in Morrow County was in 1903, when hail poured during a 90 ℃ day in June, causing Willow Creek to overflow 40 feet and aggressively go towards Heppner (June 14: A deadly day in Oregon weather history. (2017, June 14)); (Heat wave joins list of Oregon’s deadliest natural disasters; the worst remains Heppner Flood of 1903. (2021, July 2)). The death toll was about 245 residents out of 1,400 residents (Heat wave joins list of Oregon’s deadliest natural disasters; the worst remains Heppner Flood of 1903. (2021, July 2)). Flash floods bring debris and pollute the environment by destroying structures and seeping contaminated water into underground reservoirs. Tornadoes sometimes come through Morrow County. A tornado in 1885 killed three people in Long Creek on June 14, South of Umatilla National Forest (June 14: A deadly day in Oregon weather history. (2017, June 14)). Since 2000, only two tornadoes have been observed in Morrow County, one in May 19, 2006, and April 14, 2011 (Oregon Tornadoes 1950-2012. (2015)). Tornadoes affect water quality by destroying vegetation and dropping debris and possible chemicals by items into water sources. They can also create disorder in the weather with heavy rain or hail following the event, an occurrence that happened from McElligott Ranch to Lexington (Morrow County Pre-disaster Mitigation Plan)). The Umatilla National Forest is prone to many invasive plant species that degrade water quality and reduce habitat (Umatilla National Forest Invasive Plants Treatment, Umatilla National Forest, Oregon and Washington. (2006, April 6)). The Forest Service and USDA planned to treat 25,000 acres of the forest for 24 invasive plant species in 2006 and 2007 using hand-pulling techniques, mechanical tools, and herbicide (Umatilla National Forest Invasive Plants Treatment, Umatilla National Forest, Oregon and Washington. (2006, April 6)); (Umatilla National Forest invasive plants treatment project draft environmental impact statement. (2007)

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