Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) Background, History, and Why We Monitor
Under the Clean Water Act, States must identify water bodies (streams, lakes, rivers) that are not meeting water quality standards. Pollutants causing impairments to local streams include bacteria, temperature, sediment, and nutrients (nitrates and phosphorus). The Clean Water Act also includes a process for calculating total maximum daily loads (TMDLs). TMDLs define the theoretical amount of pollutants that can be present in a given waterbody without causing impairments to its designated beneficial uses (e.g., swimming, irrigation, fish rearing and spawning). TMDLs are completed periodically for a set number of pollutants. Waterbodies can have multiple TMDLs. The allowable contribution is divided up among sources in the watershed including agriculture, urban, forestry, and natural (background) sources. Designated Management Agencies (DMAs) are also identified through the process. DMAs are responsible for meeting the TMDL requirements and must implement actions to improve water quality conditions over time and track progress by monitoring and other methods.
TMDLs were completed for Bear Creek in 1992 and 2008. Central Point, Medford, Phoenix, Talent, Ashland, Jacksonville, Jackson County, Medford Irrigation District, Talent Irrigation District, and Rogue River Valley Irrigation Districts were identified as the DMAs. As a result, plans were developed and are being implemented to meet TMDL goals. Key components include water quality monitoring, implementing low impact development strategies, restoring riparian areas, and educational programs.
The Rogue Valley Council of Governments (RVCOG) has performed water quality sampling and analysis in the Bear Creek Watershed since the 1960s.The monitoring program was initially developed to help the cities of Central Point, Medford, Phoenix, Talent, Ashland, Jacksonville, and Jackson County identify what kinds of pollutants (if any) were causing a problem to local waters. Bear Creek was identified as a water quality limited stream leading to the development of the initial TMDL in 1992, the second in Oregon following the Tualatin River. Additional requirements focusing on bacteria and temperature were established in 2008. Following the new TMDL and the need to evaluate the effectivess of the implementation program, a study was completed to restructure the monitoring program to evaluate the effectiveness of the TMDL programs. Changes were initiated in July of 2011.
Current Program (Ongoing) – July 1st, 2011 to present
1. Effectiveness Monitoring Program: In July 2011, the monitoring program was changed to reflect recommendations from an effectiveness monitoring program study. The study recommended changing the program and implementing a 5-year program to focus on evaluating the effectiveness of implementation projects being completed throughout the watershed. Changes to the program including adding additional sites, removing several sites, changing sampling parameters (adding and removing parameters) , and changing sampling procedures. Maps (GPS’d Google Earth Image), data, and other information will be added to this page as they become available.
2. Illicit Discharge (storm drains and hot spot): This portion of the monitoring program continues the sampling framework and procedures established in the previous sampling program. Illicit discharge monitoring involves sampling several storm drains annually in each DMA three times. Samples are collected during the summer (dry weather), and during two storm events (flushes). The second portion of the program is the hot spot program which allows RVCOG to serve as a point of contact for water quality concerns and also provides for a limited sampling program for investigating concerns.
To report a complaint:
- Call the DEQ Complaint Hotline at 1-888-997-7888 or visit http://www.deq.state.or.us/complaints/rep.htm.
- Refer to the appropriate Agency or Local Contact using the updated Hot Spot Contact List (link).
- Document the complaint or concern using photos.
- By request, RVCOG can investigate complaints. Contact Greg Stabach at (541) 423-1370. RVCOG keeps an ongoing record of complaints and field investigations.
3. QA/QC Sampling: This program is conducted in conjunction with the effectiveness monitoring program. The Quality Assurance/Quality Control program consists of both external measures (e.g., split sampling with DEQ) and internal measures (splits, duplicates, blanks).
4. WISE Monitoring: RVCOG has been collecting water quality samples for the WISE Monitoring Program in partnership with the RRWC, the Water Master, and the SWCD. Water quality parameters measured include E.coli, ammonia, nitrate-nitrite and phosphorus. The project area covers 4 locations in the Bear Creek, Lake Creek, and Little Butte Creek.
5. Temperature Study: Starting in May 2015, the Rogue River Watershed Council, The Freshwater Trust, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and RVCOG teamed together to implement a temperature study to identify potential cold water refugia areas in Bear Creek. Multiple temperature data loggers were deployed at various locations along Bear Creek. Data collected is analyzed annually. Based on the data results, logger locations were changed, and loggers were re-deployed in 2016 and 2017.
6. Public Education and Awareness:
During the summer months, RVCOG releases a public notice advisory for streams that test over the water quality standards (absolute standard for a single sample of >406 MPN). The release is an advisory notice only and DOES NOT result in the closures of local streams to contact recreation. It does, however ask residents to take precautions when in contact with the water. Press releases are sent out as needed (based on sampling results). Limited information exists on popular swimming areas in the region. The best information available can be found on the Waterkeeper Swim Guide website
Results from the monitoring are used in meeting the TMDL requirements, in project effectiveness monitoring, to prioritize restoration projects, and for long term watershed health evaluation. The monitoring program operates under a DEQ approved Quality Assurance/Quality Control Plan and RVCOG’s data has been consistently rated as high quality data by DEQ.
Other Program Elements: Annual water quality reports, quarterly TMDL meetings, education and outreach, and serve as a point of contact for water quality concerns.
Water Quality Standards
Water quality standards are benchmarks established to assess whether the quality of Oregon’s rivers and lakes is adequate for fish and other aquatic life, recreation, drinking, agriculture, industry and other uses. Water quality standards are also regulatory tools used by the State Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prevent pollution of our waters. States are required to adopt water quality standards by the federal Clean Water Act. States submit their standards to EPA for approval.
Monitoring Program Partners
The monitoring program is funded by the Cities of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, Central Point, and Jacksonville, Jackson County, and the Department of Agriculture (ODA). Other partners that participate in the program include the Department of Forestry (ODF), Rogue Valley Sewer Services (RVSS), and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Lab space for analyzing samples is donated by the the City of Medford.
Click on the links below for more information on the monitoring program.
- 2005 DNA Fingerprinting (Bacteria Analysis) Report (PDF)