Rogue River just upstream of Medford's wastewater treatment plant.

Rogue River just upstream of Medford’s wastewater treatment plant.

Jes Burns, OPB/EarthFix

An environmental group sued the Southern Oregon city of Medford Wednesday over wastewater discharge in the Rogue River. The suit alleges outflow from the sewage treatment plant violates the Clean Water Act.

Northwest Environmental Advocates says the city’s wastewater treatment plant releasing nutrients into the river. They says Medford has known about the issue for years and has not moved to correct the situation.

“The city right now uses some fairly outdated pollution control equipment and as a result it has high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in its effluent,” said Jamie Saul, a lawyer with Earthrise Law Center, who is representing the environmental group.

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Medford, says the effluent has contributed to high algae levels, “unnatural shifts in the macroinvertebrate community, and a visibly discolored foamy plume.”

In a statement, the city says the algae isn’t confined to the area below the treatment plant, but is an broader issue both up- and downstream.

The Rogue is a popular salmon and steelhead fishing destination.

“All the spawning fish that have to make it upstream, and the fry that come downstream have to go through that area. And they have feed and stay healthy in the process,” said local fly fisherman, John MacDiarmid. “The city of Medford is negatively impacting the river with their 17-million gallons a day of discharge.”

MacDiarmid is a member of Rogue Flyfishers, the group that commissioned a study about five years ago that documented the conditions downstream of the treatment plant.

Medford officials say they dispute those findings and that they have worked with state regulators to meet environmental requirements.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which is in charge of regulating this kind of pollution, said in an email that Medford is “in compliance with the conditions of its… permit.”