Merkley, Wyden Announce $1.7 Million to Drive Solutions to Nitrate Contamination in Morrow and Umatilla Counties

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announce Morrow and Umatilla counties have received $1.7 million to help address nitrate contamination in private wells. This federal investment from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was passed in the FY23 government funding bill as a critical community-initiated project championed by Senators Merkley and Wyden. The funding will fuel local efforts to find a long-term solution to the ongoing water crisis facing community members in the Lower Umatilla Basin. 

“When I visited impacted community members in rural Morrow County and held a town hall there earlier this year, I heard devastating stories about how nitrate contamination is raising serious health concerns—with some families afraid to even brush their teeth. This is unacceptable,” Merkley said. “Everyone should have access to clean, safe drinking water, and this federal investment will help Morrow and Umatilla counties work with the State of Oregon and local communities to more fully understand the scope of the problem and start identifying a better path forward.” 

“Oregonians in Morrow and Umatilla County deserve the peace of mind that every time they turn on the tap, it’s with full confidence that the water is clean and safe,” Wyden said. “Based on my Morrow County town hall this spring and other conversations in the community, it’s clear that rural Oregonians in this part of the state have serious and legitimate water safety concerns — and I’m glad these federal funds are en route to help solve this problem once and for all.”

The federal funding will support long-term solutions that provide impacted community members not on city water with greater access to clean drinking water, including creating a comprehensive inventory of domestic wells and testing the wells to determine which homes are most critical to consider bringing into a public system. 

Additionally, Senators Merkley and Wyden are championing a second community-initiated project for Morrow County that was included in the FY24 Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill that Merkley wrote as chair of the subcommittee. The funding would be used for the second phase of their work to address nitrate contamination of private wells by developing a Preliminary Engineering Report and for vetting alternatives for providing well users with clean water. The bill passed out of the Appropriations Committee with strong bipartisan support and currently awaits consideration by the full Senate. 

“Morrow County very much appreciates this grant award from the Environmental Protection Agency, which was filed in partnership with Umatilla County,” said David Sykes, Chair of the Morrow County Board of Commissioners. “We sincerely appreciate this EPA funding which was secured by the leadership and hard work of Senators Wyden and Merkley. Both counties have been working diligently to test household water and to deliver clean drinking water. This EPA grant funding will help both counties move forward on meeting the drinking water challenges. More specifically, the funding will help counties in the designing and planning possible extension of public water systems. Part of the work will include a more in depth, comprehensive inventory of domestic wells.”   

“Umatilla County is delighted by this announcement, as it signifies a remarkable milestone in our commitment to tackle the elevated nitrate levels in the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area,” said Dan Dorran, Chair of the Umatilla Board of Commissioners. “This funding will empower us to build upon the substantial achievements already accomplished by Umatilla County Health and our esteemed state and local collaborators in testing and outreach initiatives. We extend our deepest appreciation to Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden for their unwavering support, as their dedication has been instrumental in making this endeavor a reality.”