Deschutes County will seek $19.7 million EPA ‘Community Change’ grant for south county septic, other issues

(Update: video added, additional comments from Gutowsky, Adair)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Deschutes County commissioners gave the green light Wednesday for the county to apply for a $19.7 million “Community Change” grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address a number of Addressing problems in the southern county, from modernizing sewer systems to a more environmentally friendly way of burning wood waste.

The county is coordinating with NeighborImpact, the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for the grant from the $2.8 billion awarded to the EPA under the Inflation Reduction Act's Environmental and Climate Justice Program became. It aims to help disadvantaged communities address a variety of issues.

For these grants, EPA does not require cost sharing or local funding, but projects must be completed within a three-year time frame. Although the deadline for grant applications is Nov. 21, the district hopes to submit its application by the end of May or early June at the earliest, which could increase its chances of success, Gutowsky told the board.

To reduce the ever-growing problem of nitrate pollution, the majority, more than half of the total, would go toward upgrading traditional wastewater treatment plants with new alternative wastewater treatment technologies for eligible rural homeowners. CDD estimates it could upgrade 275 wastewater treatment plants for $10.8 million.

Gutowsky said, “Southern Deschutes County is vulnerable to nitrates because of the density of rural development and the fact that so many rural residents rely on domestic wells.”

The second-highest amount, $4.57 million, would allow NeighborImpact to help 100 homeowners in La Pine and rural South County with rehabilitation, weatherization and energy assistance.

Other projects include $1.25 million for an “air curtain burner” for the Southwest Transfer and Recycling Station, which can reduce pollution from burning wood waste through a secondary combustion chamber and significantly reduce the size of smoke particles, resulting in “a very “clean combustion”. “Wrote Gutowsky.

Gutowsky told the board that the district could be at an advantage when competing with other entities for funding because the partnership of organizations already has related projects in the region.

“There are tremendous investments that can be made in this part of southern Deschutes County that leverage existing partnerships and agreements,” he said. “We have these relationships today – supporting homeowners and deepening wells. Extraordinary work is being done today.

“We can leverage the relationships that exist today to try to make further investments and improvements for tomorrow,” Gutowsky added.

For her part, Adair said she hasn't signed any federal grant applications as the federal debt climbs into the trillions. But she also has concerns about investing in new wastewater treatment plants that only reduce nitrate releases by 70 percent while working on systems that are 95 percent effective.

She later said: “I hope that as we put in another 275 updated systems, we put in the systems that are truly the best.”

Gutowsky said the grant could potentially help test these more advanced and effective systems and make rule changes that would allow them to be tested in Oregon to see how well they work here.

Adair acknowledged the “tremendous work” already done, adding: “We definitely have the need.”

She later told us that the list of planned projects includes “a lot of really necessary things to keep our county as good as it can be.”

Colleague Phil Chang said a focus on reducing pollution could be more successful in the eyes of EPA grantmakers than combating climate change, such as a subsidy for burning forest wood waste.

Adair said the county has 7,000 wastewater systems that need to be upgraded and that while the grant can only help with about 275, “at least it's moving in the right direction.”

Gutowsky also emphasized, “We are not ignoring the rest of southern Deschutes County,” with other plans and partnerships already in the pipeline or coming soon. Chang noted that this could free up funds that could be used elsewhere in the county.

Gutowsky noted that such a demonstration project for more efficient wastewater treatment plants could benefit other areas dealing with nitrate problems, such as the Umatilla Basin, an example of the “multiplier effects of this grant” if awarded.

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