Making Water Work

Water is one of Oregon’s most valuable resources. And increasingly, it’s becoming one of its most threatened. Summertime water rights are maxed out in many areas of the state, impacting business development, agricultural production and native fish, with climate change and population growth predicted to further stress Oregon’s water supplies in the future.

Oregon Environmental Council interviewed growers and irrigation experts about ways to advance water efficiency in agriculture—which uses 79% of the state’s water withdrawals—while strengthening Oregon’s agriculture sector. Our recommendations are included in the report, Making Water WorkAn Executive Summary of Making Water Work is also available.

Our top recommendations included:

  • Make existing incentive programs more effective. This includes coordinating disparate energy and water conservation programs, identifying stream reaches that can benefit the most from water saved through conservation, and strategically increasing outreach in those areas.
  • Make conservation a central priority in water resources planning at the state, basin and local scales. Currently the state places greater emphasis on water conservation planning in municipal delivery systems than agricultural water systems. This imbalance needs to be corrected, and conservation should be a central component of any plans for meeting future demand.
  • Increase funding for water conservation and water resources management through new and existing revenue sources. Funding is needed for conservation cost share programs, water rights field staff and implementation of the state’s water measurement strategy.
  • Build local capacity and knowledge. More conservation projects happen when local organizations provide the education, outreach, technical assistance and support to navigate the incentive programs that irrigators need.

After publishing the report, OEC helped develop the state’s first ever long-term water plan. Now, two-thirds of our recommendations are included in the state’s Integrated Water Resources Strategy. We also increased awareness of water conservation incentive programs. Today we are participating in a state task force to ensure that as a new funding program is established for water conservation and supply projects, public dollars are only invested in water projects that benefit both the environment and the economy. We look forward to working with irrigators, water suppliers, elected officials, conservation groups and others to ensure that our water resources will be ample to support the fish, wildlife, crops, businesses and Oregonians that rely on them for generations to come.

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