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RWA comes to agreement to protect water source posted on 05/01/2021

In an email dated Monday, April 26 to the board of directors of the Rhododendron Water Association (RWA), board president Steve Graeper announced an agreement had been reached with Chilton Lumber to preserve a buffer zone on both sides of Henry Creek on property the lumber company acquired earlier this year. The zone includes a 150-foot “no touch” buffer on the south side of the creek in the 150-acre parcel and a complete no harvest area on the north side of the creek in the parcel.

The agreement, which cost the RWA $175,000 and was pending signatures at press time, will be written into the deed for the parcel and last in perpetuity.

“I’m much more positive than I was two weeks ago,” Graeper told The Mountain Times, noting that the lumber company had taken a harder line early in the process. He added that the result was a, “Fairly reasonable final outcome,” and credited state officials and environmental groups to helping bring Chilton Lumber to the negotiating table.

In an email dated April 10, Graeper outlined the situation to the board, noting that Chilton Lumber intended to clear-cut the property and with current guidelines and Henry Creek’s designation as a small type “F” stream, the “No Cut Zone” could be as narrow as ten feet.

That buffer would impact the turbidity (the amount of suspended solids) in the stream, possibly leading to periodic boil water notices or worse.

“If the private property is clear-cut, the turbidity levels in Henry Creek will increase to a point we will not be able to filter out the impurities or Henry Creek could go underground and Rhododendron could possibly lose its sole source of clean safe drinking water to over 1,000 residents,” Graeper explained in the earlier email, citing a similar situation with the Corbett Water District, which lost the South Fork of Gordon Creek as a water source due to similar circumstances. “Unlike Corbett, which has the North Fork of Gordon Creek as an alternate water source, Rhododendron has no alternate source.”

Graeper added that logging on the property could begin as early as May 1, noting how the price of timber is at an all-time high plus the need for harvesting the lumber to take place before fire danger in the area reaches a critical point that precludes logging.

The land is one of two privately held parcels, totaling 230 acres, in the RWA watershed, while the majority of the watershed is in the Mount Hood National Forest.

Graeper told The Mountain Times that the RWA has 365 members and serves approximately 1,000 people. He noted that when he first became president, he made a promise to never have a special assessment added to the bill.

“I’m not going to do that to our members,” he said, noting that he is exploring a number of avenues to find funding for the agreement. “I’m just trying to continue to maintain the clean, fresh, state-award winning best tasting water to our members.”

He added that the RWA is one of 58 water systems in the Mountain community, stretching from Government Camp to Alder Creek, and just three of them, including the RWA, are surface water systems.

All others are groundwater systems, which are not impacted by logging practices.

“We are unique upon the mountain in the fact that our watershed is so vulnerable,” Graeper said.

By Garth Guibord/MT

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