Cascade Head Biosphere Reserve (Part 1)

Question: What are Biosphere Reserves? (UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)

Answer: “Biosphere reserves are ‘learning places for sustainable development’. They are sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity. They are places that provide local solutions to global challenges. Biosphere reserves include terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each site promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use…. Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located.”

Hart’s Cove Trail at Cascade Head. A welcome bench awaited us as we made the 2.7 mile descent. This rest stop appears to gaze over the destination to come. We didn’t find out on this journey. But, we’ll be back!

I saw Paul Robertson (Re – Robertson Environmental) in September at the Multi Agency Resource Center (MARC). He flashed me on the concept of our biosphere reserve and that Kaety and I might participate in an upcoming listening session with interested parties. At the moment I don’t have a lot of details about this event and do not see it posted on either ( or ( I should have more to come on this soon. Nevertheless, this run in with Paul was a stimulus for my own exploration of the Cascade Head Biosphere Reserve.

I had difficulty wrapping my head around the general concept in the beginning. Indicative of how little I am knowledgeable and trained in matters of ecology and nature’s living systems. I spend an unhealthy amount of time in the digital matrix.  So, instead of navigating to resources about our actual biosphere reserve I first watched the 2020 documentary Spaceship Earth – as if I expected to see a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome unknow to me in north county!

It was designed to explore the web of interactions within life systems in a structure with different areas based on various biological biomes. (Wikipedia)

The documentary is well done and enjoyable. As I learned more about Cascade Head the concept of “Biosphere 2 (which) was originally meant to demonstrate the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in outer space” became a nicely placed tangent to my growing understanding of why we might create an artificial system or designate a geographical space as a biosphere.  

Real or artificial we have an opportunity to observe, measure, explore and discover. Biosphere 2 was comprised of seven biome areas (3.14-acre).  How might a small group of “biospherians” survive in the largest materially closed ecological system ever created?  How would the enclosed mangrove, savanna, ocean and more thrive along with its inhabitants? Turns out (spoiler alert) not well.

We have much to learn and optimize before colonizing our next planet.  Taking it up an octave we much to learn about the original spaceship earth. Modern times debate our current stewardship. Oxygen levels were difficult to maintain in the 1991 experiment. It turned out the microbes in the soil and the curing cement were outliers that necessitated turning up the volume on the carbon dioxide scrubbers and pumping in some fresh air.

Biosphere 2 is now owned by the University of Arizona. Its mission is to serve as a center for research, outreach, teaching, and lifelong learning about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe. Looks like they have a podcast. We’ll be checking that out!

Our First Trip – A Hero’s Journey

On November 30th, my son and I embarked on our first adventure to the real deal. Its notable to disclose that I did close to zero research about where we were going and what the hell we were getting into. Oddly, post hike, I am still having difficulty searching the interwebs for practical information about how to access and enter the area. I’ll take responsibility for my clunky research should I just be missing the simplicity of the request.

We traveled up Hwy 101 not far from Lincoln City/Otis and turned east on N. Three Rocks Road – Cascade Head Trail. The gated and gravel road was easily navigated with occasional tight spots with oncoming traffic. We initially traveled to the Nature Conservancy Trail which was closed. We continued to Hart’s Cove Trail and found parking and turn around space along with 15 other vehicles.

Reed Miller. 10 years old. We debated heading down Hart’s Cove Trail. After months of distance learning and tele-work at home we were finally on a journey together. It was epic simplicity. He demonstrated courage and a positive mindset to get moving!

My lack of planning would thwart our endeavor. We left our home in Newport with minimal intel:  “We’ll take that turn off…. You know the one we’ve seen on the way to Pacific City? The one that says Cascade Head Trail. I think that’s where we should go. I think we can hike to the ocean? Let’s just see what happens.” I had watched several videos on the Cascade Head Biosphere Reserve You Tube channel anticipating we would be in for some ocean eye candy at some point.

Shortly after we entered Hart’s Cove Trail we inquired with passing hikers.

“How long did it take?”

“About an hour down and an hour back”.

One hiker had the rhythm. “Naismith’s Rule estimates hiking time on reasonably easy ground based on 19½ minutes for every mile, plus 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet of ascent.” The trail head sign said “This 2.7 mile hiker trail takes you past Cliff Creek and into the Neskowin Crest Research Natural Area. It ends in a grassy meadow with no beach access. The first ½ mile of trail is rather steep.”

Calculating our situation, we realized that at our current time of 2:15 pm we would exit the trail head at dark. This left us little time to explore the grassy meadow, soak up ocean views and worship the setting sun. It would be prime time for photography. I could taste the Instagram worthy outcome of making it to the end. We continued. The other hikers we encountered were going the opposite direction.

“Most people do not know at all how beautiful the world is and how much magnificence is revealed in the tiniest things, in some flower, in a stone, in tree bark, or in a birch leaf. (Letters on Life)”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

As the clock ticked and our legs continued to tire, we stopped and deliberated. He was becoming nervous and I was concerned our return might be too intense should we tackle the last of the trail in the darkness. We had no food or lighting. I provided an inspiring lecture: it was the journey not the destination that we should embrace. We decide to reverse course. During our return I could hear Reed’s boots dragging into the trail. We were in darkness as we lifted ourselves into the comfort of our truck.  

I am grateful for Paul’s request to include us in this upcoming conversation about our local biosphere designation. At the moment, I know little of the breadth, depth and purpose this meeting he has asked me to attend. It has required that I begin to explore the subject of Cascade Head. Most significantly, for my own mental and physical health, the greatest reward thus far has been spending time with my boy in the outdoors. Reed and I desperately needed to get out of the house. In my professional work as a public information officer for Lincoln County 2020 has been vigorous. Our organization’s response to COVID has created a significant workload. Additionally, the response and continued recovery to the Echo Mountain fire has added a seemingly endless menu of options in my work life.

We struggled for about 1/2 hour deliberating to stay the course or turn back. Ultimately, we called it quits. To date, this is the longest hike Reed has made. He displayed courage and joy. Being outdoors is the rejuvenator.

One layer of future inquiry is the possibility that structures destroyed in the Echo Mountain Fire might result in toxic run off into the Salmon River. The Salmon River and its estuary is a notable feature of Cascade Head Biosphere Reserve. This “social system” of human dwellings may have a negative impact on the “ecological systems” within the biosphere. The purpose of a biosphere is to create conscious awareness of our interrelationships with other living systems: winter rains pass through ash and debris and enter larger waterways. What are the consequences?

Since our adventure I have continued to research this topic. Right now, I am curious to understand more about how the United Nations fits into the sphere of influence.

The UN’s objectives include maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development, and upholding international law (Wiki)

“The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.” (SDGS)

How might we model these goals locally? Its inspiring to think we’ve got a head start in this thinking turned into action: Cascade Head Biosphere is our local biosphere within in Spaceship Earth. Its a living template. We are certainly blessed to have this asset.

Cascade Head Biosphere Reserve. The local influencers: Paul Robertson, MSc (Project & Communications Manager), Duncan Berry (CHBR Co-Organizer/Cascade Head Resident) and Dan Twitchell (CHBR Co-Organizer/Cascade Head Resident).

More to come in part two… My continued lines of inquiry include the following links and more:

Water Safety & Feasibility in a Community Neighborhood

“Access to safe drinking water is essential to human health. Each person on Earth requires at least 20 to 50 liters of clean, safe water a day for drinking, cooking and simply keeping themselves clean.” – Oregon Health Authority

In Oregon, many public water systems are required to treat, disinfect and monitor water quality for their customers. A public water treatment system is well designed and employs trained technicians to test and maintain water quality. I am one of these technicians.

Working the night shift in the treatment plant. Water production in our neighborhood is typically dictated by our clean reservoir’s tank level. We like to keep at least a 1/2 full tank at all times. I work full time… So, the night time is the right time.

The realtor had given us the access code to what would eventually be our first opportunity at home ownership.  My stepfather and I we’re looking at the empty shell. I remember turning on the water at the kitchen sink. I thought nothing of it other than it smelled a little like trees and forest. We walked around the yard impressed with the view. The eastern neighbor strolled up the driveway. His name was Marty. He had an easy-going personality and a good energy about him. The conversation evolved into one about the water. The community’s water. He asked us if we would like a tour.

Our first stop was the raw water reservoir which was bubbling in the middle. Next, we stopped at the clean water reservoir: we stared up at the tank. It was a small version of bigger tanks I had seen over the years. Finally, we explored the treatment building. Inside a large metal tank that contained dividers was fed by pipes and surrounded with pumps, electronic meters and levers.  More specific recollections are vague. It was a nice tour that meant very little to me at the time. The water ran in the house. The house had a view. The price was in our reach.  Thirty-three days later we began moving in. Our first home .

The clean water reservoir serving Bay Hills Water Association. The Association is run by a water board of community members. The service area encompasses slightly less than 6 acres located on a steep hillside. Our community is entirely residential.

My recollection of the tour is one that has reoccurred several times in the last month. Next to me, on my desk is a Water Feasibility Study.  Our water association has been fortunate to have received a grant that made this feasibility study possible. “Work under this contract is funded by the federal Safe Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund through Business Oregon and a partnership of local and/or private funds”.  It’s a draft version.  I need to read it over and provide comments and feedback in preparation of the final version. The study foreshadows capital improvement plans, sources of funding and outlines our system infrastructure. 

Our association board, of which I am a member, also needs to review the material and deliberate at our annual meeting. We’ve got many things to consider. Not all of them pleasant. We will likely need to raise user rates. Our capability to keep making safe water has been more difficult this winter.  Gravity aids the delivery of water to nineteen homes. Our little community must begin looking into the future. Climate change is showing us her teeth: our raw water reservoir is not turning over at the rate needed. The turbidity (the quality of being cloudy, opaque, or thick with suspended matter) is not dropping like it has in previous winters. Treating the water has become more laborious and difficult; we need more rainfall to replenish the water contained by the dam.

Calibrating our pH meter is SOP on each water treatment session. Excessive levels of lead and copper are harmful. We observe rules that exist to help limit exposure. Protection is provided by limiting the corrosivity of the water sent to the distribution system. Keeping the pH at 7.0 is the target.

Drinking water regulations were established in 1974 with the signing of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA). This act and subsequent regulations were the first to apply to all public water systems in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was authorized to set standards and implement the act. With the enactment of the Oregon Quality Drinking Water Act in 1981, the State of Oregon accepted primary enforcement responsibility for all drinking water regulations in the State. (*)

As a water technician I am required to ensure these standards are followed and implemented. We regulate contaminants which present health risks that are known, or are likely, to occur in our drinking water supply. My duties are not terribly difficult to execute. But, it did take a while to understand the process. In the beginning, I watched my cohorts as they went through our procedures and explained their thinking. Several sessions later and I was on my own. Over the years, I’ve had a few refreshers.  I vaguely recall what I learned in an eight hour class with State of Oregon Health Department. My process is one that’s more of reflex than actual technical knowledge.   That’s always bothered me a little because when I run into problems, I feel less adept at troubleshooting solutions. 

The good news is the plant will simply not run if we don’t hit our State required numbers: we can manually override these systems, however. In years past, I am told that water quality had its horrendous moments. During those periods – it was likely unsafe to drink. It looked and smelled awful and discolored laundry.  Fortunately, around this time, a lovely couple moved into the neighborhood and heralded what I call the golden age of Bay Hills Water Association. Their competency, knowledge and interest brought our system into its current status:  we are compliant with State requirements and produce a decent product.  Complaints are uncommon.

If water turbidity reaches or exceeds 0.30 our treatment plant shuts off. It’s a Pacific Keystone (Key-Tech HTT 20) installed in 1983 – featuring five stages of treatment: 1) Chemical Pretreatment 2) Coagulation 3) Settling 4) Filtration 5) Disinfection .

Hikers and hunters know that water from rivers, lakes, ponds and streams can contain bacteria, parasites, viruses and other possible contaminants.  Fecal coliform bacteria, Giardia and Cryptosporidium are the big offenders. What I’ve since learned, and at times is problematic in our efforts, is the presence of disinfectant byproducts (DBPs). When chemical disinfectants such as chlorine are used – residual chemicals may emerge. These compounds are called Trihalomethanes (TTHMs). They result from the reaction of chlorine or bromine with organic matter present in the water being treated. At elevated levels, THMs have been associated with negative health effects such as cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes. (National Center for Biotechnology Information).

In the US, we attempt to define numerical thresholds for negative health outcomes. The EPA refers to this as the maximum contaminate level (MCL). As long as these thresholds are not passed, we generally proceed with a sense of safety. In accordance with Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR) and with the assistance of the Oregon Health Department, Bay Hills Water Association both monitors, mitigates, tests and reports for the presence of Disinfectant Byproducts (DBPs).

We have both digital and analog recordation of turbidity trends throughout the treatment process. The analog provides the best view at a glance. Note the roller coaster ride over time (red line). We prefer a less exciting experience. Spikes in the graph at not preferred.

Generally, we do pretty well. Most of year we do not test positive for DBPs. Our most difficult months are August and September when our raw water reservoir has the least turnover.  The water is dirtier.  More sediment means using more chlorine.  Using more chlorine increases the production of Trihalomethanes. More Trihalomethanes increases the health risks.  Cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes are a known result  (Oregon Department of Human Services).

Imagine how the world has changed since the discovery and use of chlorination. “Chlorination is the most widely used disinfectant, both in centralized water distribution systems and for point-of use treatment in individual households. Its effectiveness against a wide spectrum of disease-causing organisms, relatively low cost and high reliability contribute to its popularity.” – The World Chlorine Council (a global network of national and regional trade associations and their member companies representing the chlorine and chlorinated products industries.) Even though they are an industry advocate they to recognize the risks.

As water enters the steel tank pumps squirt small amounts of chlorine, coagulant and soda ash into the vessel. Water at this time is “filtered to waste”. Micro adjustments are made in real time unit the desired numbers are achieved. Then, we pull the lever and direct the water into the reservoir.

As one of three water technicians, ten days out of the month, I am on duty.  We like to keep our 26,000 gallon “clean” water reservoir no less than half full. Should we have a leak or a fire it allows us some breathing room – but not much. Water disinfection technology has changed very little. Our system uses chlorine to mitigate the above-mentioned contaminants, soda ash to control pH, a coagulant to clump together particulates, and a carbon filter bed as a final trap before the treated water is pumped to storage.

I am paid fifteen dollars an hour. In my mind it is largely a volunteer effort.  I can make more money doing other types of work. Being paid a modest fee reduces the cost to my household and the nineteen other metered homes who make up the Bay Hills consumers pool. Users are billed a base rate of $65 per month. Our consumption charge is $15/1,000 gal. Volunteer workers will receive a $20 month discount.

Our water feasibility study is an important document foreshadowing priority projects and other recommended improvements. The “Priority 1 Project” details a capital improvement project that addresses our current raw water turnover dilemma.  The study also details some improvements in the treatment plant that would potentially reduce disinfectant byproducts.  The cost estimate is roughly $410,000 ($21,000 per household).  This pathway assumes a continued supply of fresh rainwater to our watershed.   If climate change continues and annual rainfall lessens, we’ll need to take other actions. It’s concerning.  At least we have a road map to the future.  I am curious and hopeful that our association board can work together, find consensus and take action.

Big simple buttons. I also enjoy big, simple, knobs and switches on my vintage stereo equipment. Unlike a smart phone the options are straight forward. As a treatment technician I look forward to the moment I can press “auto”. That usually means I can return to my family in the comfort of home.

This may be where my particular skill as a communicator comes into play. This essay is my first effort to describe in words the nature of our situation. We’ll need to distill (no pun intended) our options, analyze alternatives and present these to the community.  Our path forward needs to ensure clean drinking water and the viability of our water system into the future. A house without water is not a house that looks desirable to a new buyer. A house without water is not one that is likely to be lived in.

Our annual community meeting (surprise, surprise) is rarely attended. Nor are our board meetings which are both publicized and open for participation. In my observation we have not engaged in any meaningful outreach that motivates participatory feedback. We’ve been status quo with a hint of wishful thinking.  We’ve got some work ahead of us. Nevertheless, there’s nothing quite like “increased rates” for getting the community fired up. And, God forbid, if water should not appear at the tap. That would certainly cause the phone to start ringing!

Soda ash batch mixer. Soda ash is added to increase the pH and alkalinity. The majority of our infrastructure was established in 1983. State of Oregon requires a water distribution system maintain a pressure of 20 psi under all conditions at all service connections.

Over the years, living here, I’ve been inspired to explore many other lines of inquiry in regard providing water to our home.  The water technician role has opened my mind to thinking about what really constitutes “clean” water.  I’ve got some models of how our home can get off the grid.  Living on the Bay road has opened my mind to the concepts of water scarcity, climate change, and the fact that most “developed” communities don’t utilize grey water mindfully.  It is nonsensical to use treated water for flushing the toilet and watering the yard. In fact, it may have bigger and scarier implications for disinfectant byproducts on a scale that’s ironically disturbing. Living here has compelled me to think about alternatives in a way I may never have had to if we lived in the City, with the strength of numbers in a larger municipal infrastructure.

When water runs at the tap – we are happy. Long showers sooth the mind and body. It’s easy to ignore the implications of wastefulness and life without our most precious resource.

Mid-Coast Water Planning Partnership. What does local/regional planning and coordination look like? Why is water planning needed on the coast? The Mid-Coast needs reliable water supplies. Although the mid-coast receives ~70 inches of rainfall annually, local communities have struggled to meet water demands in recent years. A 2008 study found that, given current supplies and infrastructure, water suppliers could have insufficient supplies by as early as 2020.

Since we moved into our home I’ve spent many hours watching water documentaries, imagining off the grid setups and contemplating many things H2O. I’m grateful for how our little community has challenged me to process water – both literally and figuratively!

During this round of research I stumbled upon a couple of videos that were very intriguing and underscore the importance of water in the big picture. The first is Water, Cells, and Life | Dr. Gerald Pollack. He presented his finding at a TED Talk in 2016. “So your muscle, or whatever cell, is not working properly if it doesn’t have EZ water. Of course, if you have some EZ water, then it functions, but not quite as well as if you have a full complement of EZ water. You have potential energy from the EZ, which drives the work of the cell.”

This excerpt is just part of a fascinating analysis of the importance of water in cells functions. The analysis begs further inquiry into the quality of that water. Really cool. It underscores why I feel that blending vegetables has a profound effect on my health. I’ve noticed when I’m blending that I drink less water. Yet, I find myself peeing quite a bit. More so, than when drinking the same amount of water (16 ounces of blend vs. to 16 ounces of water). It’s the EZ. I just never had a scientific explanation for what I’ve experienced. Super!

What does water actually do in the formula for life? Water scientist and biomedical engineer Gerald Pollack shares new information and ideas about simple things we can do to charge up our human cells faster than our cell phones. The report from his lab will surprise you !

The video below demonstrated “The bridge between water and life | Dr. Adam D. Wexler. Water is essential to life, to our health, and the stability of our world. Yet a complete scientific description of the material itself eludes us. Don’t you just love TED?! This is a remarkable video of one man’s journey to understand the significance of water. There are some interesting things happening here. You should let this one soak in. No pun intended, again. We are very literally recycling one of our life’s essence paradigm shift, blow your mind if your let it, concepts. Wexler’s inquiry begins with his practice of craniosacral therapy and it’s mysterious benefit. Eventually, leads him to water.

What In The Bleep Do We Actually Know About Water?

Stay thirsty my friends!

* Much sourcing for this essay was provided by our draft “Water Feasibility Study” (December 2019). HBH Consulting Engineers out of Newberg completed the work with assistance, technical and historical data from Bay Hills Water Association. Special recognition to John and Linda MacKown for their tireless efforts to make water in our community not only accessible but to the standards set by the State of Oregon. They are true champions in our neighborhood with commendable ethics and compassion for their neighbors. There are others, too. Our entire Board is the most active. A few others contribute volunteer hours to keep water running at the tap. XOXO.