JOSEPH, Oregon – Located near a small community made up of vacation homes, lodging, restaurants and small business, Wallowa Lake is a popular family destination. However, the presence of something at the bottom of the lake has the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concerned.
It’s not known what the barrels, which are labeled “weed killer,” contain.
The barrels were first discovered last summer by Lisa Anderson and William Lambert, members of Blue Mountain Divers, a nonprofit scuba diving organization whose mission is to find, recover and preserve objects of historical significance that are sitting at the bottom of lakes and rivers.
“We didn’t know they were there,” Anderson said.
The divers decided to dust one off, and were shocked by what they discovered. Anderson said she and Lambert immediately contacted the Oregon DEQ.
“We learned about the barrels from the DEQ on October 15, 2018,” EPA On-site Coordinator Mike Boykin told KTEL News.
Boykin said that Anderson reported there were about 25 55-gallon drums that were rusted out. Boykin said that means whatever was inside had already been released. However, Boykin said it’s the 10 to 12 100-gallon drums that appear to still be intact that has both the DEQ and EPA concerned as they likely contain something and need to be assessed.
Boykin said the barrels reportedly bear labels with “2, 4-D or 2, 4, 5-T WEED KILLER”, which are nearly identical to the infamous Agent Orange, although, at this time, the contents of the barrels are unknown.
“We have no idea how long they’ve been there or how they got there,” Boykin said. “Illegal dumping is presumed.”
Boykin said the EPA is hoping to start retrieving the barrels in September.
“The presence and ultimate removal of the barrels will not affect water quality or recreation at the park,” Chris Havel with Oregon State Parks’ Communications and Research Division said.
Havel said that the barrels appear to be outside the boundary of Wallowa Lake State Park.
“Other than some minor activity around the boat ramp when they get removed, we don’t expect this will affect park visitors.” Havel added.
According to Oregon DEQ Public Affairs Specialist Laura Gleim, testing of the water at Wallowa Lake will be done every other week. Since Wallowa Lake is the primary drinking water source for the city of Joseph, Gleim said the municipal officials will also be closely monitoring its drinking water as mandated by state and federal law.
Both Boykin and Gleim said community meetings are being planned. Details of those meetings have not been finalized.