Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) designated the Lower Umatilla Basin a Groundwater Management Area (GWMA) (ORS 468B.180) in 1990 because of elevated nitrate concentrations in groundwater samples. According to the First Action Plan, DEQ established the LUBGWMA Committee in 1996 under the Oregon Ground Water Quality Protection Act of 1989 (ORS 468B.150 to 468B.190)(“the Act”) for the purpose of restoring and improving groundwater quality by decreasing nitrate concentration to less than 7 mg/l in the groundwater in the basin, which is 70% of the federal safe drinking water standard of 10 mg/l. This area encompasses Northern Morrow and Umatilla counties including Hermiston, Boardman, Irrigon, Stanfield, and Echo. After the Groundwater Management Area was declared, a four-year interagency hydrogeological investigation was conducted to determine the extent of contamination and to identify the potential sources of that contamination.

High nitrate concentrations in drinking water are linked with serious health concerns for infants and pregnant women. Sources of excess nitrate in water include fertilizers, septic systems, wastewater treatment effluent, animal wastes, industrial wastes, and food processing wastewater.

To accomplish such tasks, the LUBGWMA Committee was formed and is composed of local area businesses, residents and governments representing a broad range of interests within the local area and basin. The committee is an official body and has since developed voluntary Action Plans with the help of Umatilla and Morrow County Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

The LUBGWMA Committee has been restructured and became a Public Body on November 4th, 2022. DEQ has formed the LUBGWMA Committee with a voting body that consists of 11 voting members from 10 regionally representative categories, including Morrow County, Umatilla County, Science and Research, Industry and Business, Irrigated Agriculture, Livestock/Dairy/CAFO, Environmental Organizations, City Government, Tribal Government, and General Public (2 members).

On February 17th, 2023 the Bylaw for the LUBGWMA Committee was established. According to the Bylaw the purpose of the LUBGWMA Committee is outlined below.

The purpose of the LUBGWMA Committee shall be to develop and promote long-term strategies and plans to reduce groundwater nitrate levels in the LUBGWMA to less than 7.0 mg/l:
● Provide a range of local knowledge and expertise specific to the region and state in order to assist in decreasing the nitrate groundwater concentrations in the LUBGWMA.
● Fulfill the statutory obligations (ORS 468B.179) provided in the Oregon Groundwater Quality Protection Act and the declaration of a GWMA by DEQ, including (ORS 468B.183) but not limited to:
o Develop and promote a local action plan for the LUBGWMA.
o Evaluate portions of the local action plan, if any, that achieved a reduction in contaminant level.
o Advise the state agencies to develop a Local Action Plan under ORS 468B.184, ORS 468B.185, ORS 468B.186, and ORS 468B.187 regarding local elements of the plan; and
o Analyze the local action plans developed to determine why the plan failed to improve or prevent further deterioration of the groundwater in the LUBGWMA
● Work with relevant federal and state agencies, tribes, and regional, state, national, and international experts to ensure actions proposed to reduce nitrate concentrations are based on accurate and current scientific principles, methodologies, and knowledge;

● Review information provided by local and lead Agency (ies) implementing nitrate mitigation
● Receive and review information from stakeholders regarding actions and projects implemented to reduce nitrate concentrations to below 7 mg/l and evaluate the effectiveness of those actions and projects in reducing nitrate concentrations in LUBGWMA in collaboration with universities, local and state agencies, and other relevant experts in the field; and
● Identify funding opportunities to reduce nitrate groundwater concentrations in the LUBGWMA and share it with other regional water management efforts.