Portland Chapter

The Portland Chapter of Surfrider Foundation works from the mountain watershed to the sea More Details
August 9, 2013 | 3 Comments

Short Sands Water Quality Update

Water quality has gone back down to safe levels at Short Sands beach and the Oregon Health Authority has lifted the advisory for recreational contact. Responding to local concern for the high level of bacteria over the past weekends, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has been very supportive in helping to mediate what locals and recreational users think may be the source of some of the bacteria, the restrooms and septic field adjacent the upper trail. According to North District OPRD Manager Mike Stein, “We’re not positive we can point to the septic field, but we certainly can take preventative measures until our engineer can do a full inspection”, which is scheduled to occur next week. Do that extent, OPRD has begun pumping the septic tanks on a regular basis, an added measure to prevent any possible excess sewage from actually reaching the drain field.

OPRD North District Manager Mike Stein discusses walks volunteers and concerned citizens through the area of the septic drain field at Oswald West State Park

Charlie Plybon, Oregon field Manager for Surfrider Foundation, north coast members and a representative from the watershed council were able to meet with the Mike Stein on Tuesday, to walk the site and learn more about the issue and history of the drain field and septic system and talk about solutions. We spent about two hours walking around Oswald West, mucking around the drain field and discussing how to best approach the issue of limited resources and increased use. If you’ve ever walked down to short sands, you’ve probably picked up the smell of the drain field on the south side of the trail, just as you descend from the 101 bridge. The primary concern with the septic drain field is it’s age and size. The drain field was never built to accommodate the type of use that the Short Sands parking lot today gets. In 2006, an additional lateral was added to the drain field to help accommodate expanding loads (pun intended); as well as additional surface water laterals to help drain surface water and runoff that was compromising the drain fields ability to properly infiltrate sewage into the soil.

So what’s next? OPRD is going to treat the septic tank as a holding tank for the rest of the summer during peak use, pumping out waste and not allowing the waste water to enter the drain field. Before the end of the month, the agency’s engineer will be out to look further into the capabilities and make recommendations for the septic tank and drain field. Additionally, the old campground bathroom has been reopened to ahelp alleviate the pressure on the upper bathroom. The lower bathroom by the main beach entrance has a relatively new system that seems to be functioning well. We’ll be continuing to follow this issue, sampling water quality regularly and working with Mike Stein and Matt Rippee from OPRD as they hear back from their civil engineer on next steps. Stay tuned and tip of the hat to OPRD for their diligent attention to this issue!

And, if you’ve ever wondered how we do our lab work or are interested in volunteering, here’s a quick and dirty video of us running the sample from the leach pipe pictured at right, after our meeting with OPRD staff on Tuesday afternoon. And, the leach pipe came back results came back clean on Wednesday. If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved in the program, go here.


3 thoughts on “Short Sands Water Quality Update

  1. Nicole says:

    Great stuff Surfrider and Charlie:)

  2. Dear Surfrider et al,

    Thank you for reporting on this important issue.

    I spent this past weekend surfing Short Sand beach on both Saturday and Sunday. And frankly, I had no idea until now that there was a water contamination problem at this beach until now. Thank you to OPRD for taking action!

    Unfortunately I remain unclear after the article as to where the septic drain field lies. Is it serving the toilets in the main parking lot, or is it serving the toilets that are lower down the drainage in the old campground?

    On a possibly related note, my girlfriend (also a surfer and we met at the main Oswald West parking lot) and I noted a lot of mature crabs dead on Short Sand beach this past weekend. Does anyone know why this is happening? Might it be related to water quality?

    Keep up the great work everyone!

    Cheers, Jason

  3. Charlie says:

    Hey Jason,

    Apologies for our delay in responding to you, feel free to shoot me an email for faster response in the future at cplybon@surfrider.org. To answer your questions (partially):

    1) I should be clear that we are not 100% certain the cause of the problem is the septic drainfield. However, the drainfield under our and OPRD watch is the one serving the restrooms up by the parking lot. The drainfield is west of HWY 101 and south of the trail (it would be off to your left as you walk down the main trail, just after going under the bridge). The lower restrooms at the bottom of the trail have a fairly new septic system and that area is not really a concern.

    2) Dead Crabs – We’re seeing some signs of hypoxia (low oxygen water), which is a seasonal event associated with strong upwelling in the ocean. This occurs off our waters under natural conditions, and often results in some shellfish casualties, particularly crabs and krill. You can learn more about hypoxia and the current research off Oregon here: http://www.piscoweb.org/research/science-by-discipline/coastal-oceanography/hypoxia