Splish! Splash! An Update on our Rogue River
Ah, Christmas in July. Tis the season to hit the river for rafting, fishing, kayaking, or just downright lounging. But how does the river feel about all this? We enlisted our local river expert, Director of Rogue Riverkeeper Robyn Janssen, to weigh in on what threatens our beloved Rogue River and what makes her tick.
Rogue Valley Messenger: What is Rogue Riverkeeper and what does your job entail?
Robyn Janssen: Rogue Riverkeeper is a member based, organization that works to protect and restore clean water and healthy fish populations in the Rogue Basin. We do this through advocacy, accountability, and community engagement.
Our vision is of a clean, free flowing, healthy river where the Rogue’s scenic beauty, recreational, fish, and wildlife values are protected and restored for future generations. We aim to build broad-based community support that fosters and nurtures community responsibility for good stewardship of our river. We fill a critical niche in the Rogue Basin as the watchdog, steward, and voice of the River and watershed.
Our work involves upholding the Clean Water Act, an important law that was enacted in 1972 to protect public waterways from pollution and to hold polluters accountable for their actions. We engage in agency processes and enforcement whether on the state or federal level and we work with local communities to elevate their voice for their right to clean water and a swimmable, drinkable, fishable Rogue Basin.
RVM: What are some major goals that Rogue Riverkeeper hopes to accomplish this year?
RJ: We’ve been quite successful over the past year with the denial of the Jordan Cove LNG export project in 2016 and a bill to protect Oregon’s salmon habitat from suction dredge mining this spring.
However, the Jordan Cove LNG export project is back for its third round under the new administration and we, along with a diverse coalition, are monitoring their every step. While we fully anticipate a federal approval this time around, we continue to work closely with partners like Rogue Climate and Landowners United on growing the resistance to this unprecedented project. We are already seeing greater energy as a result of the Dakota Access Pipeline fight which is great as the Jordan Cove project queuing up to be the biggest fossil fuel export project fight in the country.
Another one of our goals moving forward is to get local municipalities to address impacts from their wastewater facilities. Many of our local wastewater treatment plants are outdated and unable to handle the amount of wastewater that they are currently dealing with. This is a problem for our local rivers and streams as treated water is put directly back into those water bodies and causes significant impacts to the biotic communities in those waterways. Ashland, Medford, and Gold Hill’s facilities are just some of the treatment plants that are currently operating under expired Clean Water Act permits and have significant issues with their wastewater discharge.
We also hope to ramp up outreach and energy on the Wild Rogue Wilderness Expansion with the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 2018. While under the new administration we are doubtful anything will get done, we will continue working with partners across the state and country to highlight our incredible Wild & Scenic Rivers, of which the Rogue was one of the original eight. We live in an incredible valley and the Rogue is the life blood of this place. We look forward to celebrating 50 years of a Wild and Scenic Rogue River!
RVM: What is the current state of our rivers here in the Rogue Valley and surrounding areas?
RJ: Our rivers, for the most part, are doing pretty good. There are some exceptions of course like Bear Creek, but overall they’re faring well. Obviously, when we have a good winter snowpack, like we did this year, our rivers are cold, clean and run long into the summer with enough water. Fish runs do better and recreation thrives. When we have a low snowpack, our waterways suffer as we’ve seen over the last several years.
We of course have a lot of issues that need to be addressed like antiquated wastewater treatment facilities that need upgrading, pollution runoff from agriculture and storm water, and threats from development and growth. The Rogue Valley is growing very quickly and the use of water along with it. It is extremely important that municipalities work to conserve water, update antiquated infrastructure so as to conserve and protect water resources, and develop practices that will enhance our rivers and streams and therefore their sustainability.
We also need to work on adopting better forestry practices, especially on private lands logging where clear cuts are allowed all the way to the streams edge. Oregon has one of the weakest forestry practices statutes in the country and our waterways suffer because of it. But that is a whole other ball of wax! (Not to say that we aren’t working on it!)
RVM: What is the most endangered species on our rivers right now? Are there any thriving populations? What do you think has contributed to these numbers?
RJ: The most endangered species in the Rogue Basin waterways is the Coho Salmon which has been listed for nearly 12 years. Coho are a very sensitive species and it is unclear as to what the exact cause is for their decline. However, human induced threats and impacts are the overall root of their struggle. Dams, water diversions, resource extraction, increased water temps, commercial fishing, non-native species introduction, and more have all contributed to loss of habitat and the decline of Coho populations in the Rogue Valley Basin.
There have been concerted efforts to lesson these impacts over the years and millions of dollars have been spent on habitat restoration for the sensitive species. Dam removal, streamside restoration, bans on instream mining, and other efforts have helped a bit but we have a long way to go to really see this species come back to healthy populations again.
RVM: What impact do you predict the Jordan Cove LNG project would have on our area if approved?
RJ: We were successful in seeing it denied last year because of the impacts the 232-mile pipeline would have on Oregon landowners. However, the company is hopeful that under the new administration they will see a friendlier outcome and the project will be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
The coalition working to stop the project has always assumed that FERC would approve the project, so that is what we expect this time around. However, the state of Oregon has a lot of power in this process and would still have to approve a very large number of important permits for the construction of the project, a process that will take years. We are following the regulatory process very, very closely and will be there every step of the way to do what we can to stop this project.
Rogue Riverkeeper got involved in this issue in 2006 due to the impacts the pipeline construction would have on the upper Rogue Basin. We have huge concerns about the impacts the pipeline would have on important waterways that feed clean, cold water to the main stem of the Rogue. Now, over a decade in to this fight, we know it is so much more than impacts to waterways but that is still our main concern and why we have been at it for so many years.
This project, if built, will have huge impacts on the Rogue Valley and the state of Oregon as a whole. If the impacts to the environment, private property, climate, local tribes, public lands, gas rates, and our communities don’t concern you, the fact that Oregon will be known as a fossil fuel export hub and the ONLY one on the west coast of the US should. That is not what Oregon is known for and will not be if it’s up to us. (I get a little fired up around this issue!)
This project is not about jobs or the economy or progress. It’s about out-of-state fossil fuel corporations targeting southern Oregon as a “weak spot” to get their gas (from Canada!) off the shores of the US to Asia in order to make billions of dollars and destroying our homes, our environments and our communities in the process. None of that money will go to our communities. Half of the jobs will come from out of state. Communities will be torn up and abused and then left to clean up the mess. This thing is not good for Oregon and we deserve better.
RVM: How do you see the recreational use and conservation of our rivers balancing out?
RJ: Rogue Riverkeeper sees this as a great partnership. Recreational users are some of the best voices for our natural resources and should feel empowered to stand up and let their voice be heard around issues that are impacting their watershed or wherever they recreate. That is something that we really focus on is working with those who are out on the water all the time whether fishing, rafting, or riverside landowners. Their voice is more effective with many of the issues our natural resources are facing today and the more they act and speak up the better.
We work very closely with local outfitters, anglers, raft guides, and other outdoor industry businesses because their livelihoods depend directly on the river and our natural resources. If the river is polluted and toxic, they cannot operate and therefore suffer. So it’s a great partnership and we help each other out in whatever way we can.
RVM: What can individuals do to keep our rivers healthy?
RJ: This is a great question! There is a lot we can do to keep our rivers and streams healthy. Get involved with Rogue Riverkeeper! Use less water. Leave no trace when you are out recreating! (It amazes me that the people that use and enjoy the river are the ones that trash it the most.) Pick up your trash when you spend time next to or on the river. Don’t cut down streamside vegetation, plant more! Do not dump any liquids into a river or stream. Build with materials that are permeable and help filter water. Drive less. Donate to groups who work to protect your natural resources! Report pollution if you see it. And most importantly, get out and enjoy your local rivers and lakes streams and waterways. You have to connect to a place in order to love it and therefore want to protect it. For the Rogue!