Summary Information
(last updated on: 6/14/2019 12:27:01 PM)
On the bottom of Wallowa Lake, toward the south shore, there are reportedly 12 seemingly intact 100-gallon and 25 rusted out 55-gallon drums. The drums have an herbicide label: “2,4-D or 2,4,5-T weed killer.” Despite their labels, the contents of the drums are currently unknown. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality are investigating to determine what the drums contain, and how to safely remove them. It’s unknown how long the drums have been in the lake, but they appear to have been there for years. A recreational dive group found the first two of these drums in August and September 2018.

Initial water sampling has not detected 2,4-D in the drinking water sourced from the lake.

EPA and DEQ are working to remove the drums in summer 2019 in consultation with the City of Joseph, Wallowa Lake State Park, Oregon Department of State Lands, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Health Authority, Oregon State Marine Board, Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office, Nez Perce Tribe, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Fifty-five-gallon drums have been found at the lake bottom for years, a remnant of the days when empty drums were used extensively to float and anchor docks. It was common practice for people to fill the drums with water, rock or cement and anchor the drums with rope to floating docks. However, the 100-gallon size and chemical markings on the recently found drums are unusual. For this reason, government agencies are taking extra precautions to test the lake water and remove the drums to ensure the lake continues to meet water quality standards for people, fish and wildlife.

Joseph’s drinking water:

Wallowa Lake is the primary drinking water source for the City of Joseph. No 2,4-D has ever been detected in drinking water samples, which have been collected regularly since 1985. DEQ and the City of Joseph will be taking water samples for analysis of both 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T beginning the week of June 10, 2019. As a precaution during drum investigation and removal activities—when there is increased potential for drum disturbance—Joseph will temporarily source its drinking water from a backup well rather than the lake.

Swimming and fishing in the lake:

DEQ is collecting and analyzing water samples near the drum site with the help of Oregon Parks and Recreation and Oregon Health Authority to ensure the water does not pose risks to people who swim and recreate. Wallowa Lake State Park staff will collect water samples from the boat dock and on the shoreline near the drum site twice a month until the drums are removed. DEQ’s lab will analyze the samples and send the results to OHA for review. These results will be shared with the public as quickly as possible.

Removing the drums:

EPA is contracting a professional environmental cleanup dive team to safely remove the drums as soon as possible. EPA and the dive team will perform an initial dive assessment at the site in mid-June to inspect the drums, verify the information provided by the recreational dive group, and gather site information to prepare for the removal.

Removing the drums is a logistically challenging effort, but it’s possible the team could begin removing the drums as early as mid-June. EPA and DEQ are prepared to act immediately if the initial site assessment indicates there is an imminent risk of release from any of the drums.

EPA and DEQ will closely coordinate removal operations with environmental and cultural resource stakeholders to minimize the impact to Wallowa Lake’s fish and its cultural and archaeological resources.


Attend an information meeting Tuesday, June 25, 6-8 p.m. at the Joseph Community Center, 102 E. First St., Joseph, OR 97846.

Find current updates at
General Site Information
Site: Wallowa Lake Drum (ECSI Site ID: 6320) CERCLIS (EPA) Id
Project Manager: James Collins Investigative Status:Contamination Suspected
PM Phone: (541) 633-2010 NPL(National Priority Listing):No
Address: 72115 Marina Lane Is this site an Orphan?Yes
Joseph, 97846 Is this site a brownfield?No
County: WALLOWA Action Underway or Needed: ORPHAN SITE
Region: Eastern Region Click for more details ...  
Site Documents
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File NameCategory File Size MB Document Date Upload Date
6320-WallowaLakeDrum-Site-OrphanDeclaration-6-2019.pdf Memos 3.0242 6/11/2019 6/12/2019
Site Links
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EPA Region 10 Response Website EPA Pollution Reports
Oregon DEQ Public Notice page
Oregon Newsroom - DEQ Current updates about the project
Department of Environmental Quality
700 NE Multnomah Street, Suite 600 Portland, OR 97232
Hours: Mon-Fri, 8 a.m.-5 p.m

Email: | Phone: 503-229-5696 | Fax: 503-229-6124

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