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Scientists review ideas to mend Gorge air

First time event held in Hood river


Gorge News Report

While they may not have agreed on exactly how to measure or model Gorge air quality, scientists who met in Hood River last week did agree the issue merits serious consideration.

"I think we do ourselves a disservice as scientists if we come out too positive on our results and not recognize that there are uncertainties," said Brian Lamb, of the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research at Washington State University.

He made the comment as a peer reviewer during the afternoon session of the Columbia Air Quality Project Science Day.

The first-time event, held on Sept. 26, convened representatives from several states, including the regional air agencies of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Southwest Clean Air Agency.

"It was a one-of-a-kind event that brought all the studies to the table in one day," said William Knight, DEQ spokesperson.

For six years, representatives from the agencies have been working on studying Gorge air quality. Their efforts have involved planning, ambient monitoring, and visibility assessments. The result was a draft "science summary" report, and it was the main topic of discussion.

The science summary was done under the auspices of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Commission, which will consider a policy change in December based on the study.

"I was very pleased with the Gorge Air Quality Science Day -- all the participants of various studies and reports were represented at the meeting, and the peer review was valuable to the scientists as well as the audience. It was an information-charged day that was organized and inclusive," said Gorge Commission Executive Director Jill Arens.

The draft report stated: "This strengthens our conclusions that haze in the Columbia River Gorge is caused by a wide variety of source types and source regions, and that no single facility, category or region can be singled out as the dominant cause of haze."

Knight said that included two sources identified in past studies: either the coal-fired power plant at Boardman, Ore., or pollution from the Portland metropolitan area.

"What came out was a consensus that there is no one magic solution, but it's going to be a number of things to improve air quality," Knight said. "There was broad consensus that something needs to be done now."

Those causes in the Columbia River Gorge vary seasonally and are influenced by five basic wind patterns. A technical team for the Gorge has been finishing up a modeling component of the studies. The report will look at future trends as well as examining five "what-if" scenarios.

Those are intended to test the significance of source categories, source regions, and key emission sources. Where pollution comes from that creates haze was one area of contention among the scientists during the peer review of the draft science summary report.

"Part of what you do is run every model possible and then look at the discrepancies," said Bill Malm of the National Park Service. "You need to go back and reconcile what are two totally different conclusions."

He referred to discrepancies between private studies and the agencies' work. Malm said he was bothered about the absence of certain elements in the draft study, including emission sources from agriculture and wildfires.

Following peer review and public input in November, the technical team compiling the information will present its final recommendations for an appropriate Gorge air quality strategy to the full commission in December.


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