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Officials: Threat has passed after sewage spill into North Umpqua River

WINCHESTER — Umpqua Basin Water Association officials said Thursday the threat from Wednesday’s sewage spill has passed and the association is again taking in water from the North Umpqua River.

Roseburg Urban Sanitary Authority officials reported approximately 222,240 gallons of raw sewage spilled into the North Umpqua River on Wednesday morning.

RUSA General Manager Jim Baird said the spill was downstream from the City of Roseburg water intake, so the city’s water was not affected. Once officials with the Umpqua Water Basin Association were notified, they shut down their intake, which is located along the North Umpqua River by Brown’s Bridge, as a precautionary measure.

UWBA Manager Brad Johnson said the association had plenty of storage to provide its approximately 8,700 members with safe drinking water until the threat passed early Thursday morning.

“We kicked them on about 3 a.m.,” Johnson said. “Everything has actually resumed in a normal position, our chlorine content has held solid and our pH is normal. (The sewage) has pretty much been watered out and has passed the threat stage.”

The higher water flow with the recent rain helped dilute the pollution pretty quickly, Johnson said.

Baird said the contractor working on the Highway 99 road improvement project in Winchester was working on a sanitary pump line for the Winchester pump station near Amacher Park. He said when the contractor had excavated and exposed some piping on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, a fitting came apart, resulting in the sewage leak. Trucks from Heard Farms in Wilbur were called in to try and collect the sewage but were not able to keep up with the flow. As of 9 a.m., sewage began spilling into the river until about 11:40 a.m. when crews were able to get it stopped.

“They did what we call bypass pumping into the truck,” Baird said. “They actually had two Heard trucks and we had one of our trucks there to help minimize the discharge into the river.”

Baird said RUSA posted warnings at public access points along the North Umpqua River recommending people not make contact with the water until the contamination clears. He said they will continue to sample the river until the water below the spill matches the bacteria levels of the water above the spill.

Baird said the cost to mitigate the spill will be on the contractor.

“They trucked a lot of sewage, and the repair to the piping system, all that will be on the contractor,” Baird said. “DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) will evaluate what happened and dictate whether there is any violation of our permit.”

Contractors from R & G Excavating of Roseburg and utility crews for the Douglas County Public Works Department were working on replacing the second of two bridges in the Winchester area and working on the RUSA sewage lines when the break happened Wednesday morning.


Education
Statewide school assessment scores show above average results in Oakland, Elkton and North Douglas

Douglas County school districts North Douglas, Elkton and Oakland scored above the state average on school assessments for English and math, according to results released Thursday by the Oregon Department of Education.

“Teachers and staff work hard to incorporate ELA (English Language Arts) and Math into other subject areas, and everyone is on board and responsible for improving test scores,” Oakland School District Superintendent Patti Lovemark said. “We focus on student engagement strategies across all grades and subject matter.”

Glide and Sutherlin school districts also scored above the state average in English, but fell just below the state average in math.

Statewide, 39.4% of students met the state standards in English and 53.4% met the benchmarks in math, and are deemed on track to graduate by the ODE.

Roseburg Public Schools scored 37.1% on the English test and was exactly 2 percentage points lower than the statewide average in math.

Testing is done every year from third to eighth grade, and again in 11th grade, in English, math and science. The state has not yet compiled all the science data, which is expected to be released later this school year.

The assessment results are the first of several assessments released by ODE on the public schools in the state. The results from the assessments are for all students in the school district on May 1, including those with cognitive behaviors and those who recently moved into the district.

“It’s important to note that more students are participating. The higher the participation, the more data we have to identify areas of statewide need,” Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said in a press release. “This data should be used to inform the state and school districts in how they target resources.”

At Roseburg, there have been several programs implemented in recent years to improve student achievement, including new language arts instructional materials in elementary schools and new math materials in secondary schools to align with state standards, a new focus on appointing English and math leaders for each building to help with professional development, adding teacher leader positions for technology and the talented and gifted program, and professional development for teachers on differentiation of instruction.

“Our goal is to be higher than the state average and to continue learning and growing,” Roseburg Public Schools Director of Teaching and Learning Michelle Knee said. “Our focus is to look at the system, so pre-K through 12th grade, and what we can do to support students socially and emotionally, as well as academically, across the system. And that everyone is talking to each other. ... They’re all of our kids, regardless of what grade they’re in.”

Bright spots for Roseburg included higher than average scores in English language arts in grades four through seven and exceeding the state average in grades four through six in math.

The most improved score was fourth grade English, where the scores rose from 43.4% to 54.7%.

High school students are only tested during their junior year. Students at Roseburg High School scored 59.8% in language arts, compared to 49.9% for eighth graders.

Roseburg High School has also focused on making the transition from eighth to ninth grade as smooth as possible by sitting down with the middle school teachers to discuss each student’s strengths and needs. That practice will also start in the transition from elementary school to middle school.

The school district is also working on creating an instructional framework, updating its instructional materials in math at the elementary schools.

“We have room for continuous improvement. We’re very proud of the work that our teachers, staff and students do in their classrooms every day,” Knee said. “It’s our priority to provide them with the resources they need to support student achievement.”

In Roseburg, another noteworthy improvement was the gains made by American Indian and Alaskan Native students. Last year these students scored a 4.5% in math, where this year students were at 31.8%. Students’ proficiency in English language arts went from 11.1% to 48.9%.

At the district level across the county, Oakland School District scored highest in English.

“We believe that strong reading skills are the key to all other subjects,” Lovemark said, adding the district has used the Success for All core reading program in its elementary school for more than 20 years.

North Douglas School District led the county in math.

“We want to celebrate the work our students and staff are doing,” North Douglas Superintendent Terry Bennett said. “We strive to be better tomorrow than we were today and we can continue to always get better.”

Days Creek had the lowest English score in the county and did not have enough students participating in math testing to get a reading. Instead, Glendale now sits at the bottom of the list, followed closely by Winston-Dillard.

“It is a clear improvement is needed in these two subject areas,” Gill said. “Thanks to the historic Student Success Act passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Kate Brown, we will eventually see more resources targeted to help students graduate high school, ready for college or a career.”

The Oregon Department of Education notes the assessment information is a snapshot in time, narrowly focused on two subjects taught in schools. These subjects are gateway skills, but do not describe all of the student’s skills or assets.


Environment
Climate strike planned in Roseburg Friday

Demonstrators are expected to gather Friday in Roseburg to call for immediate action on climate change. It’s one of many such demonstrations planned around the world that day.

The local rally will be from noon to 1 p.m. in front of Fred Meyer on Garden Valley Boulevard. It is sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Umpqua Valley, the Douglas County Global Warming Coalition and Umpqua Watersheds.

LWV President Jenny Carloni said they’re encouraging members of the public to attend. The local strike doesn’t have any specific demands, she said.

“We’re just raising awareness, standing in solidarity with other people around the world who are concerned and want solutions to happen soon. People want to see action,” Carloni said.

Unlike many of the strikes being held Friday across the United States and around the world, this one is not student-led, and Carloni said students are not being encouraged to skip classes to attend.

Some local school districts don’t hold classes Friday, but Roseburg High School does. Principal Jill Weber said the school won’t interfere with students who choose to attend the strike, but it will follow school policy on unexcused absences. She said she hadn’t heard about any students planning to attend the event.

The Seattle City Council recently passed a resolution encouraging schools to support striking students, and Portland schools announced that students would not be punished for attending the climate strike there as long as they obtained excused absences from their teachers.

Other Oregon cities planning climate strikes include Eugene, Astoria, Grants Pass, Medford and Ashland, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Carloni said she plans to read a statement by Sen. Jeff Merkley, who endorses the climate strike. She also said the League is concerned at the national level, and it’s a priority for them that carbon reduction start to happen.

“We’re just out to bring attention to the fact that it is a crisis at this point or an emergency, something that needs to be dealt with soon before it becomes past the point where it becomes much more difficult to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere,” she said.

The scientific consensus is that a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is necessary to avoid catastrophic effects from climate change in the coming century, but how to solve that problem remains politically controversial in many rural communities.

Carloni said calling for climate solutions doesn’t need to be a tough sell in Douglas County.

“I think that the solutions going forward can actually provide job opportunities, opportunities for creativity, opportunities for people to build an economy that works well into the future and doesn’t harm the environment at the same time,” she said.

“People have a choice. They can reject it or they can embrace the fact that the future will be different one way or another,” she said.

The Douglas County Global Warming Coalition said the issue is especially important for the younger generation.

Coalition board member Stuart Liebowitz said the urgency of addressing climate change can’t be overstated.

“As temperatures rise and wildfires in the Pacific Northwest grow hotter, with unprecedented hurricanes, the Amazon forest ablaze and the science that tells us we have but a decade to avoid a climate catastrophe, now is the time to show world-wide support for action on this issue. For on our shoulders rests the responsibility to leave our kids and grandkids a healthy planet,” Liebowitz said in a press release.