Skip to Content

Deschutes County will seek $19.7 million EPA ‘Community Change’ grant for south county septic, other issues

(Update: Adding video, more comments from Gutowsky, Adair)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Deschutes County commissioners gave the green light Wednesday for the county to apply for a $19.7 million “Community Change“ grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address a range of issues in the south county, from upgrading troubled septic systems to a greener way to burn wood waste.

The county is coordinating with NeighborImpact, the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for the grant, from the $2.8 billion awarded to the EPA under the Inflation Reduction Act’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program. The goal is to help disadvantaged communities address a wide range of issues.

No cost-sharing or local match is required by EPA for these grants, but the projects must be completed within a three-year timeframe. Though the deadline for grant applications is Nov. 21, the county is hoping to submit its request by late May, or early June at the earliest, which could boost its chances of success, Gutowsky told the board.

To reduce the continually growing issue of nitrate contamination, the biggest amount, more than half of the total, would go toward upgrading conventional septic systems to new alternative wastewater treatment technologies for eligible rural homeowners. CDD estimates it could upgrade 275 septic systems for $10.8 million.

Gutowsky said, "Southern Deschutes County has a vulnerability to nitrates, just given the density of the rural development and the fact that so many rural residents are relying on domestic wells."

The second-largest amount, $4.57 million would allow NeighborImpact to help 100 homeowners in La Pine and the rural south county with home rehabilitation, weatherization and energy assistance.

Other projects include  $1.25 million for an “air curtain burner” for the Southwest Transfer and Recycling Station, which can reduce pollution from burning wood waste through a secondary burn chamber, significantly reducing the size of smoke particles, making for “a very clean burn,” Gutowsky wrote.

Gutowsky told the board the county could stand in good stead in competing against other entities for grant dollars in that the partnership of organizations is already doing related projects in the area.

“There’s tremendous investments that can be made in this portion of southern Deschutes County that leverages partnerships and agreements that are in place,” he said. “We have these relationships today – assisting homeowners, deepening wells. There’s extraordinary work being done today.

"We can leverage relationships that are in place today to try to make further investments and improvements for tomorrow," Gutowsky added.

Adair for her part said she hasn’t been signing federal grant requests, as the federal debt climbs through the trillions. But she’s also concerned about investing in new septic systems that are only 70 percent effective in reducing the nitrate releases, when work is underway on systems that are 95 percent effective.

She said later, "I'm hoping that if we're going to put in another, what, 275 systems that are updated that we put in the systems that are really the best."

Gutowsky said the grant potentially could help test those more advanced and effective systems, as well as address rule changes that would let them be tested in Oregon, to see how well they work here.

Adair credited the “tremendous work” being done already and added, “We do definitely have the need.”

She later told us that the list of planned projects include "a lot of really necessary things to keep our county the very best it can be."

Colleague Phil Chang said a focus on pollution reduction may be more successful than addressing climate change, in the eyes of EPA grant scorers, when it comes to a grant to burn forest wood waste, for example.

Adair said the county has 7,000 septic systems that need to be updated, and that while the grant might only help with about 275, “at least we’re going in the right direction.”

Gutowsky also stressed, “We are not ignoring the rest of south Deschutes County,” with other plans and partnerships up and running or coming soon. Chang pointed out it could free up funds for use elsewhere in the county.

Gutowsky noted how such a demonstration project for higher-performing septic systems could benefit other areas dealing with nitrate issues, such as the Umatilla Basin, one example of the "multiplier effects of this grant," if awarded.

Article Topic Follows: Deschutes County

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

Author Profile Photo

Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content