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The impact of environmental change on the Tualatin River cleanup – a case study of policy responses to climate change

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Title: The impact of environmental change on the Tualatin River cleanup – a case study of policy responses to climate change
Author(s): Nelson, Jennifer M.
Advisor(s): Jarrell, Wesley
Department / Program: NRES
Discipline: Environmental Science
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: M.S.
Genre: Thesis
Subject(s): Tualatin River climate change flow management ecological assessment ecosystem services climate adaptation climate mitigation watershed approach Clean Water Act water quality non-point source pollution nutrient pollution
Abstract: Since 1986, water quality in the Tualatin River basin outside of Portland, Oregon has been managed to prevent unsightly algal blooms, improve conditions for recreation and to improve salmonid habitat. These efforts were shaped by EPA's "watershed approach," developed to improve non-point source water quality management. The Clean Water Act itself does not provide the same rigorous regulatory structure for non-point source pollution as it does for point source pollution. In the Tualatin Basin, point source controls for nutrient pollution both before and after the 1986 lawsuit focused on waste water treatment facilities, with substantial but clearly limited improvements in water quality resulting. A 1986 lawsuit mandated the creation of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standard which would allocate the upper limits for nutrients and other non-point source water quality parameters in the basin. Enforcement involved many state and federal laws and regulations administered by a variety of agencies with the co-operation of several private parties. One action taken to improve water quality was creation of a Flow Management Committee to govern release of water stored in Barney Reservoir during the summer months. The practices of this Flow Management Committee directly influence water quality in the basin, particularly through summertime stream-flow augmentation to improve water quality and offset the waste water treatment facility's permit requirements. These decisions are a sub-set of the overall TMDL policy and a microcosm of the „watershed approach‟ that can be reviewed to determine their effectiveness. While the "watershed approach" could improve water quality protection in many ways, previous assessments of performance lack a strong framework to assess effects on ecosystem services and human well-being. This research explores the how an assessment of these factors can improve watershed management through a case study of twenty years of flow management decisions. The study considers whether use of a comprehensive ecological assessment tool as a soft model in policy analysis can help governments and agencies to identify potential problems and policy options, as well to predict outcomes and potential drawbacks in the face of such environmental change. One such tool that may be adapted for use in urban areas of developed nations may be the United Nation's Millennium Ecosystem Assessment tool (MEA), used in this research to assess both past flow management decisions and potential responses to climate change. This case study is modeled on the approach taken by EPA in its own review of state watershed management approaches in the 2002 Statewide Approaches Report. EPA's review characterized the programs based on existing data and first person interviews, then identified issues of concern and assessed which practices were effective. The SAR approach lacked a strong tool for evaluating impact of the programs on ecosystem services and human well-being, instead relying on assessing partnerships and quantitative water quality parameter improvements. Following the SAR model, this research applies the MEA to a similar case study. The case study, developed from existing data sources, provides a demonstration of how existing data within the public record can be used to forecast potential effects and guide decision making under this type of analysis. Weaknesses of the research methods utilized here are identified, recommendations for policy adaptations and further research are summarized, and a brief discussion of the potential value of comprehensive ecosystem assessments to regional decision making are presented. Ultimately, comprehensive ecological assessment would improve assessment and implementation of the "watershed approach" in state programs by assessing the impacts of management decisions on both the ecological and the human communities as well as helping to identify areas where further research is needed in terms of establishing baseline conditions, monitoring change and predicting outcomes. Such a tool may also help to identify and address potential feedbacks from management decisions as these changes effect ecological services and human well-being, driving further changes in policy decisions.
Issue Date: 2011-08-25
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/26239
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Jennifer Nelson
Date Available in IDEALS: 2011-08-25
Date Deposited: 2011-08
 

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