Lakeside landfill degrading groundwater

Water seeping from the Lakeside Reclamation Landfill in Washington County has "significantly degraded" groundwater and threatens to further impair the Tualatin River's already sub-standard water quality, Oregon environmental regulators say.

Shallow groundwater under the unlined construction debris landfill, perched next to the Tualatin River and a national wildlife refuge, is "a potential hot spot of contamination," Henning Larsen, a hydrogeologist with the Department of Environmental Quality, said in a letter last month to Lakeside owner Howard Grabhorn.

The company's tests found low levels of dissolved oxygen in monitoring wells near the river and high levels of chloride and other chemicals that can be hazardous to river life, Larsen said Tuesday. The landfill's soil cap also is inadequate, increasing the risk that water will reach the trash and leak out, he said.

"The conditions are such that you couldn't support aquatic life even if the rest of the river was restored," Larsen said. "And it's a relatively long-term condition. It may really preclude restoration of habitat or improvement of habitat."

Lakeside, an unlined construction debris landfill opened 50 years ago, is to close next July, though the company is sparring with state officials over how much money it needs in its closure fund. Opponents want it to close earlier and to stop operating as a compost facility.

Advisers to Lakeside, which could face high cleanup costs, dispute the state's conclusions about potential harm to the river. No evidence shows that the contaminated groundwater is reaching the river in volumes high enough to damage water quality, said Rick Malin, a hydrogeologist and consultant for the landfill.

The river channel is surrounded by dense clay that slows the influx of groundwater, Malin said. Tests of aquatic organisms in sediment showed no damage from landfill leachate.

"Our main concern is DEQ's assumption that the water quality we see in the wells is the same water quality that enters the river," Malin said, "and the assumption that it's having a detrimental effect on the river."

Lakeside opponents say the state's notice vindicates points they've been making for five years and should compel Washington County and Metro to step up enforcement and cut off the landfill's waste supply.

Art Kamp, a landfill neighbor and critic, said he is gratified by DEQ's more aggressive stance but disappointed that it took the agency so long.

In 2001, Kamp, a retired Dow Chemical research director, spotted an increase in contaminants in Lakeside's reports. "We immediately started going to DEQ and saying, 'There's a problem here,'" he said. "But especially at the beginning, we got a lot of reaction like we were just a bunch of complaining neighbors."

Kamp said media coverage and inquiries from state Sen. Brad Avakian and Mike Carrier, Gov. Ted Kulongoski's natural resource policy adviser, prodded the agency to do more.

Larsen said the DEQ's response was slow. Staff turnover played a part, he said, including the death of the state hydrogeologist assigned to the landfill.

His letter cites increased salinity in groundwater, "significantly depressed" dissolved oxygen, elevated levels of barium, iron, phosphorous and zinc, and chloride contamination consistently above "chronic" levels. Without a fix, it says, the "degraded conditions are unlikely to abate for decades."

DEQ wants Lakeside to study ways to control the contamination, most likely diverting groundwater, treating it or both.

The agency wants the study done by December, and has warned it could initiate a mandatory cleanup program outside Lakeside's control. Lakeside officials say they need more time.

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